EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

January 13, 2013

RILEY'S REFLECTIONS

After a year, the superintendent/receiver says Lawrence schools are 'improving every day'

(Continued)

Efforts to increase the high school graduation rate. Less than half of the city’s students graduate within four years. Riley hired Shalimar Quiles to be the district’s director of student re-engagement — a position that focuses on bringing dropouts back to school to get their degrees.

“Dropout recovery is an area we’ve put considerable energy and time into, focusing for the first time in recent LPS history on re-engaging students who’ve left the system,” Riley said in an interview last week.

“We had early success this summer with 10 students who’d left just shy of graduation coming back to enroll in summer classes to earn diplomas, and we continue to see those efforts rewarded in this school year,” he said.

“We currently have 76 students back in school who had previously dropped out. There’s no comparison for the previous year because prior to receivership there was no re-engagement effort in place, but the bottom line is we expect to be able to say in June that more kids reached the finish line than the year before,” he said.

Tough personnel issues

Riley cited the school district’s rigorous review of teachers and principals as the toughest part of his job last year.

“Any time you have to remove people, that’s not an easy decision,” Riley said, noting “a pretty significant turnover” in principals.

“Normally, you don’t see one-third of the principal corps being turned over. You don’t see that kind of turnover in a Massachusetts public school system. But we felt like some changes needed to be made to get better outcomes for our kids,” he said.

The receiver’s review of teachers also contributed to a high turnover. Normally, the district hires 90 to 100 new teachers each year.

“A lot of people on the review list decided to leave the district without going through the process,” Riley said.

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