LAWRENCE — Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley raves about a bright future he envisages for Lawrence Public Schools.
It’s a future where the city’s education system ranks near the top of urban school districts across the state and all students have an opportunity to receive a college-worthy education. It’s a future where the city — not the state — runs the schools.
“I am more optimistic now than when I took the job,” Riley said in an interview on Friday — the first anniversary of his appointment to one of the most difficult assignments facing anyone in the state’s public education system.
“Lawrence Public Schools are laying a foundation and coming back. I think we are headed in the right direction. We’re improving every day, but we have a lot more work to,” he said.
Riley, 41, has completed his first 12 months of a 3 1/2-year contract of overseeing the state’s most-troubled school system. He expects it could take up to seven years to accomplish his mission to turn around the school district and return it to local governance.
“I believe it’s a five-to-seven-year process,” said Riley, who makes $198,000-a-year.
“If it happens quicker, great. But it’s going to take time to reform all the things that can be reformed,” he said.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education declared Lawrence a “Level 5” school district in late 2011, the state’s designation for a “chronically underperforming school district.”
That vote authorized State Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester to hire Riley to run the failing district and make the needed changes. It also stripped the seven-member elected School Committee of its governance powers.
Riley chalked up last year as grueling, yet productive period for improving the school district.
“I think we got a lot done,” Riley said.