EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 23, 2012

Column: New school year in Lawrence promises many changes

Frank McLaughlin
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — 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.

We, the teachers of Lawrence, are also moving forward with our own programs to improve student learning. For example, we are partnering with a group called First Book to provide high-quality books in both English and Spanish to Lawrence children free of charge.

This is an exciting time in Lawrence — a time of promise, a time of change. There is one thing that can be said with certainty, though: Our efforts will have the greatest chance of success if we make our voices heard. As parents, family members, and teachers, we know best what our students need to succeed. We must stand together and speak out for our students so they can receive the best education possible.

Here is one easy way that we can show our unity: Let’s celebrate the upcoming Bread and Roses Festival together by taking part in the Labor Day March. This will be a fun, family-friendly event where we can show our support for excellent schools in Lawrence. The march begins at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 3, at the corner of Stafford Street and Broadway. We hope to see you there!

Thank you for your trust and support. We wish you and your family a safe, healthy, and educationally enriching school year.

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Frank McLaughlin is the president of the Lawrence Teachers Union.