BOSTON – Lawrence Public School Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley told a ballroom full of educators over breakfast yesterday that he doesn't think that turning around an entire school district has ever been done.
But Riley, who was hired by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education six months ago to do just that with the state's most troubled school system, vowed he will do whatever it takes to get the job done. He called it "unacceptable" that half of the students who attend Lawrence High School "actually wind up walking across the stage" to receive their diplomas.
"There are kids in the schools right now that if we don't take drastic steps aren't going to make it to graduation," Riley told the crowd of more than 100 at the Omni Parker House.
"I was at student registration last week, watching two excited kindergarteners come in to register for school and the only thing I could think of was not how cute they were – but we've got to fix this so they walk across that stage – because if we don't, they're not going to. And this is going to be a huge problem," Riley said.
"At the end of the day, it's all about results. I put myself as the man in the middle and we've got to produce and it's got to be a whatever-it-takes culture to get it done," he said.
Riley was the keynote speaker on a forum titled "The Lawrence Reforms and School Choice," hosted by the Pioneer Institute. The Boston-based, privately funded think tank has been a strong advocate for charter schools over the past two decades. The push for charter schools playing a greater role in the state's overall educational opportunities for children – particularly in Lawrence – resonated as a key theme yesterday.