EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 15, 2013

Lawrence Teachers union to help develop new school

Oliver School will be split into 2 independent schools

By Mark E. Vogler

---- — LAWRENCE — The Lawrence Teachers Union will play a key role in the management of a new elementary school and the hiring of its principal next year.

“I’d say the specific model we’re doing is fairly unprecedented in Massachusetts public schools,” Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley said yesterday of the future Oliver Partnership School — one of two independent schools that he’s decided to create from the existing Henry K. Oliver School.

“The teachers union will be making recommendations for the leadership of that school, and every teacher in the building is going to have a say on how the school runs and what the curriculum choices are going to be,” Riley said.

The Oliver Partnership School, which will involve about 400 students in grades 1 through 5, comes from a union proposal recently approved by Riley as a plan to turn around one of the city’s poorest academically-performing schools.

Under the proposal, the union, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts (AFT MA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) would work with Lawrence Public Schools to oversee improvements and changes for the entire school, grades 1-8.

Riley said yesterday that the middle school (grades 6 through 8) will be managed by Unlocking Potential (UP), “a proven turnaround operator and current LPS partner” currently overseeing the management of Grade 6 at the Leonard Middle School, another one of the city’s six schools declared “Level 4” schools — a designation for the state’s 43 lowest achieving and least improving schools.

But Riley said he was impressed for the most part with “The Oliver Partnership Proposal.”

“I thought it was a pretty thoughtful plan which showed a deep commitment to the children of Lawrence,” Riley said in an interview last night.

“The idea that teachers can have a voice well beyond their classroom and some of their other ideas were impressive. They (the union) challenged me to bring them to the table and we want them at the table. Now, we’re going to challenge them to make a great school,” Riley said.

Stephen Crawford, a spokesman for AFT MA and the local union, agreed that the Oliver Partnership School would be unique among previous school models attempted in the state.

“This is first school of its kind in Massachusetts because the local, state and national teachers unions are sharing school management with the school administration,” Crawford said last night.

Lawrence Teachers Union President Frank McLaughlin said Riley accepted most of the union’s proposal to create Oliver Partnership School. Representatives of the teachers union, the school district, school administrators, school staff, parents and members of the community will work collaboratively and comprise the school’s Partnership Council, which will function as the school’s board of directors.

“The two most important elements of (the) Oliver’s transformation will be the two ‘Cs’—collaboration and community,” McLaughlin said. “There is unequivocal evidence that low-performing schools can be turned around when there is trust and shared responsibility among all stakeholders and active parental and community involvement.”

“The key word is partnership. It’s not a union school. It’s not an administrative school. It’s a partnership.”

The redesigned Oliver Partnership School will open for the 2013-2014 school year. Plans include:

*Curriculum aligned to the Common Core standards and the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.

*Extended learning time that will have a strong emphasis on academic enrichment in the arts, music, theater, debate, science/technology, fitness and health, high school and college preparedness and Lawrence history, according to the union.

Community partners will be involved in after-school enrichment programs, addressing children’s needs ranging from medical, dental, nutritional, mental health and other social services, McLaughlin said.

Students from the Oliver Partnership will be relocated one block over to 183 Haverhill St. That building is currently used by the High School Learning Center and Adult Learning Center program, both of which will move to the Oliver’s current quarters at 233 Haverhill Street (the North Common Educational Complex).

The UP Academy Oliver will continue to operate from the Oliver School’s current quarters.

“We are honored to work with the students and families of Lawrence. We believe that the students of Lawrence deserve an exceptional education, and we will continue to partner with Lawrence Public Schools until every family has access to an extraordinary school,” said Scott Given the CEO of Unlocking Potential.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do to climb out of Level 4 status, and many details to sort out as we move forward. But these are major steps in that direction,” he said.

UP Academy Oliver will start with grade 6 in the 2013-14 school year, and add grades 7-8 the following year.