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August 23, 2012

Column: New school year in Lawrence promises many changes

The new school year is about to begin, and Lawrence teachers are excited to welcome your children back to school. Together, we can make this a great year for everyone.

As you know, many changes are taking place in the Lawrence public schools, and we wanted to update you on some of them.

Last year, the state placed the entire school district in “receivership,” citing low test scores, high drop-out rates, and poor leadership. A receiver named Jeff Riley is now running the schools for the state. The state will be in charge for at least three years and perhaps longer.

Mr. Riley has released a “turnaround plan” that lays out his ideas for improving our schools. This plan, in both English and Spanish, can be found on the Lawrence Public Schools website.

Mr. Riley has a lot of power to make changes to our schools. While he doesn’t have to listen to parents, students, and teachers in making decisions, we very much hope that he does seek and value our input. Experience shows that schools do best when all groups — families, students, teachers, school support staff, elected officials, school officials, community leaders, and businesses

— work together for the common good.

One big change is that Mr. Riley is asking outside groups called “education management organizations” to run three schools: the Arlington Elementary School, the Leonard Middle School, and a new alternative high school called Phoenix Academy. It will be important for us to make sure that these schools educate all students equally, including students who are learning English, students with special needs, and students who struggle academically. Let’s also extend a warm welcome to the newly hired educators at these schools — we are happy to have you in Lawrence.

Another big change is that Mr. Riley plans to increase the length of the school day. Some schools and grades will see longer hours this school year, while the majority will see a longer day in 2013-14. We support a longer school day, as long as the extra time is used well, with some time going to activities such as music, art, theater, athletics, and hands-on learning in science, social studies, and technology. The district must also provide safe transportation so that young students are not walking home in the dark during winter.

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