Metro

Nonprofit will no longer run troubled Dever Elementary for state

Dorchester- 6/10/2016 Math tutors work in small groups at the Dever Elementary School. Sonia Luzon(cq) age 12(left) and Shawniya Smith(cq) age 11 work together on a math problem in a 5th grade math class. Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki(metro)

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

Sonia Luzon, 12, and Shawniya Smith, 11, worked on a mathematics problem at Dever Elementary. A nonprofit’s oversight of the school did little to boost academic achievement.

A Newton nonprofit will step down as the state-appointed receiver of the Dever Elementary School in Boston in June, state officials announced Wednesday, ending three rocky years of oversight that did little to boost academic achievement at the long-struggling school.

The announcement comes as the three-year contract for Blueprint Schools Network was set to expire June 30. State officials said it was a mutual decision not to enter into another management contract.

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Instead, the state has decided to appoint Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang as the receiver for the Dever. Under the arrangement, Chang will report directly to state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester on the Dever’s progress, and the commissioner will have final say on many aspects of the school’s turnaround effort.

“The kids at the school deserve a strong education, and we are not there yet,” Chester said in an interview.

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Blueprint’s three-year oversight of the Dever has been marred by turmoil, according to a Globe review last year. The school has experienced high teacher turnover and has had six temporary or permanent principals during that time, creating difficulties in executing a turnaround plan.

The school also struggled to address student discipline problems and absenteeism. Consequently, families have responded by pulling their children from the school. Enrollment over the last three years has dropped from 524 to 415.

Matthew Spengler, executive director of Blueprint, defended the nonprofit’s work at the school. While he acknowledged turnover in principals prevented a rapid rebound at the Dever, he said the school is turning the corner.

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“Our interim test scores are showing strong academic improvement,” Spengler said in an interview. “This will be our best year yet.”

The Dever is one of two Boston schools in state receivership. The other is UP Academy Holland, where the Boston-based nonprofit UP Education Network serves as receiver. Chester said he expects UP will continue as receiver after its management contract expires in June.

Chang’s appointment as receiver is similar to an arrangement the state has in New Bedford, where Superintendent Pia Durkin has been the receiver of the Parker School for the last three years.

Chang said the Boston school system “looks forward to supporting the students, families, and staff moving forward,” and will develop a new turnaround effort for the school.

While Chang said he has not decided what changes to make, he expects to ensure that the school offers a safe and supportive environment while also increasing the rigor of instruction.

One particular challenge is the young teaching staff. Chang pledged that the school system will help the teachers develop their craft and new teaching methods. He said he has not decided if any staff members would be asked to reapply for their jobs.

Low staff morale has been a problem at the school, according to the latest progress report Blueprint submitted to the state in January. In response, the report noted that the Dever set up a “Sunshine Committee” to improve morale and retain more teachers.

Blueprint Schools Network will step down as the state-appointed receiver of the Dever Elementary School in Boston in June.

John Blanding/Globe Staff/File

Blueprint Schools Network will step down as the state-appointed receiver of the Dever Elementary School in Boston in June.

Chester said that while the Dever this year has established clear behavioral expectations for students, with a resulting drop in discipline problems, much work remains in elevating instruction at the school. He said the levels of curriculum, assignments, and reading materials were “pretty rudimentary.”

When Chester appointed Blueprint as receiver, the nonprofit had no experience running a school on its own. Its previous work had largely involved partnerships with schools in Denver, where it assisted in overhaul efforts that included launching an intensive math tutoring program.

While the Dever receivership proved disappointing, Blueprint has turned around a school it operates in Salem, prompting the state last fall to remove the school’s “underperforming” designation.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said he was pleased Blueprint would be leaving the Dever.

“It’s about time,” Stutman said. “I’m glad the school is still salvageable after Blueprint’s three years of inexperience ran it into the ground.”

James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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