There’s a coherent plan in place to improve the Lawrence public school system, which was plunged into state receivership last fall after many years of deep dysfunction. The plan doesn’t call for anything so dramatic as mass firings of teachers and administrators. But by enlisting the help of respected charter-school operators, the plan does mark a major departure for a city where the former school superintendent has been convicted of embezzlement and fewer than half of students graduate from high school in four years.
Charter schools will play a key role in the redemption of the Lawrence schools. Successful operators, including Community Day and Unlocking Potential, will form partnerships with underperforming schools in Lawrence to provide management oversight and revamp academic programs. But district schools will also receive greater opportunities for autonomy, if they are up to the task of raising achievement in the 13,000-student district. Should the district schools fail to make the most of this freedom from central control, more charter schools will likely be recruited for the task in the coming years.
State receiver Jeffrey Riley has spent months looking closely at the talent pool in the district. He identified at least six of the system’s principals and about 50 teachers whose performance required further action. Of that group of teachers, 16 have been terminated and 18 have resigned or retired.
Ideally, the city’s teachers’ union will be a full partner in the redemption of the city’s school system. Union leadership has been generally supportive of the plan. But that could change once the receiver extends the school day or school year by 15 percent and uses his power more widely to select and assign the best teachers without regard to seniority.
Obviously, Lawrence families and school employees have the most at stake. But the receiver’s turnaround plan for Lawrence could also serve as the blueprint for overhauls of other underperforming districts, such as Holyoke or Fall River. State education commissioner Mitchell Chester said it could be a “game changer’’ in the state’s effort to turn around failing school districts. But if Lawrence fails to make strong progress during the next few years, the state will need a significantly tougher approach.