A unique public-charter partnership to save a failing Lawrence school

In January of 2012 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts put the Lawrence Public School system into state receivership.  Deval Patrick appointed Jeff Riley as the receiver/superintendent of the system.  One of Riley’s first challenges was what to do with the chronically underperforming Arlington School.  Riley took a unique approach, allowing the high performing Community Day Charter system to take over management of the elementary grades. This is a first in the state pilot program.

Photo Credit:CDCPS Powerpoint

“Community Day Public Charter School has a long history of educational success in Lawrence.  When  a few schools inside our district were declared to be “Level 4/Chronically underperforming,” it was a no brainer to bring them in to discuss the possibility of a partnership,” said Riley.  

Riley continued, “the result was an agreement whereby they would take over the management of the Arlington Elementary School.  This was a logical fit as Sheila Balboni and her team have worked for decades in the Arlington neighborhood and have the connections to, and trust of, the parents.”

there’s more…

The Community Day Charter Public School network has been one of the best performing charter systems in the state.  At the original charter school students are performing well above the state average on the MCAS test, even beating the students of the affluent neighboring suburbs.  

Because of this success, CDCPS was allowed to replicate itself, opening two more charter schools in August of 2012.  The enrollment in these schools will be pushing up against the 18% charter limit per district allowed by law.

The Arlington School was chosen for this pilot program for a number of reasons.  The main reason is that is is consistently one of the lowest achieving shools in Lawrence.  In 2012 only 26% of third graders scored proficient or higher on the English language arts MCAS exam and two percent fewer scored proficient or better on the Math portion.  In 2011 no Arlington Elementary School kindergarten students demonstrated age-appropriate functioning for math or language.  

CDCPS is run by a 501(c)3 called The Community Group which has provided services to the Arlington Neighborhood of Lawrence for decades.  In 1970 they opened their first child care program in the neighborhood, and also has been providing after school services at the Arlington Elementary School.  It was a natural fit.

Lauren Barbieri, Communications Director for The Community Group told Red Mass Group, “As a charter school management group, The Community Group is managing the district school (grades K-1 last year, K-4 this year) and implementing our charter models of teaching, school structure, and parent engagement (school broken into smaller learning academies with a head of school who serves as instructional leader, co-teaching, data-driven instruction, range of community engagement practices). As an in-district public school, CDAES is a neighborhood school that serves students assigned to it by the district based on their address in Lawrence.”

Sheila Balboni, of the CDCPS, explained to Red Mass Group how their management of the Arlington School will work, “We began in Sept 2012 with grades Kindergarten and First, then this year in 2013 took over the whole failing elementary school- grades k-4.  This is a big risk for a charter.  We are employed by the district as managers, our teachers are union.  We did get to hire our own faculty and staff, do our own curriculum and run our own school schedule -ie our charter model.”

This spring will be the first that under their management students will take the MCAS exams in third and fourth grade.  The students however taking those tests will only have had one year of learning under the CDCPS model.  

Below is a video outlining the collaboration.

According to a presentation on the partnership, prepared by CDPCS, there are two main benefits they are hoping to see.

• Opportunity to impact children in one of the poorest performing schools in the district; a neighborhood where TCG has deep roots

• Opportunity to show scalability and potential for replication of the CDCPS instructional model, operational management techniques, and family engagement strategies

There are also benefits beyond the Lawrence Public Schools, if the model works it could benefit other districts in the nation with large numbers of immigrant students and English language learners.

From time to time Red Mass Group will check back in to see how the partnership is progressing.  

Tom Duggan of the Valley Patriot contributed to this report, and Material from the Community Day Charter Public Schools was used in this reporting.

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