By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — At the Henry K. Oliver School, teachers are not only at the head of the class but also playing a role in running the school.
The first of its kind in Massachusetts, the Oliver Partnership School opened yesterday with 500 children in first through fifth grade.
In the second year of state receivership, the city’s schools began classes at least a week earlier than other local schools as part of an effort to increase learning time.
Teachers Sarah Lynch and Nancy Parchuke are “co-leaders” at the Oliver; there is no principal.
“We will run the school and involve the community,” Lynch said. “Parents, students and teachers will all have an equal voice. This is a real partnership. By having more teachers in the classroom who know what it takes to educate a child, we’re going to do it right. There is a real positive vibe of making this school a success.”
The school at 183 Haverhill St. was built in 1914 as an elementary school. For many years, it was a junior high school. In 2010, it alternative high school, while Oliver students moved to the old Lawrence High building across the street.
Lynch has been an elementary school and special needs teacher in Lawrence since 2002. Parchuke, a Lawrence native, has worked as a technology teacher at several city school since 1997 as well as at the Business Management and Finance High School.
The Oliver Partnership School came about after the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education identified it as an underperforming, Level 4 school, with substandard scores on MCAS English and math tests, for four straight years.
When Level 4 fail to improve for four years, the superintendent, school committee, administrators, teachers, parents and others draft a plan to improve the scores.
In 2011, fifth-graders scored 22 percent in English language arts, compared to a state average of 67 percent. Fifth-graders also did poorly in math, scoring only 5 percent while the state average was 50 percent.
The Oliver School’s plan calls for a focus on improving students’ reading and math skills and increasing their English language fluency with the help English immersion coaches.
Lawrence’s history will also be an integral part of the curriculum, and that pleases Louise Sandberg, archivist of special collections at Lawrence Public Library.
“Massachusetts history is American history, and each community has to come forward and take care of their unique period,” Sandberg said. “It’s a shame for these young people to go to school and leave without any idea of where they live. “
In addition to academics, Oliver Partnership School will have “wraparound services” to address children’s medical, nutritional and other needs. Behavioral specialist will focus on discipline and student behavior.
“Lawrence schools are under a microscope and our goal is to keep students in school and reach their utmost potential,” Parchuke said. “The most important work will be done in the classroom, with teachers and union leaders working on the same goal to help students succeed.”
The specialists will work closely with parents to keep students in school instead and will offer programs for parents, including English classes, employment counseling and citizenship training.
State-appointed Superintendent-ReceiverJeff Riley praised the work teachers put into creating the partnership school.
“I’ve been impressed all along with the teachers’ approach to the Oliver Partnership School,” Riley said. “Starting with a model that showed how much they care not just about the children, but the city itself and the kids’ relationship to it.
“This school and the teachers behind it are important pieces of the district’s turnaround,” Riley said. “They know what the expectations are, and they know I believe they can deliver.”
Plans for the Oliver Partnership School came about with the help of state and national representatives of the American Federation of Teachers. Riley and Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence Teachers Union, attended a workshop on the concept at the federation’s headquarters in New York to hear more about the plan.
To prepare for the school year, volunteers laid new floors, painted walls and moved furniture into the Oliver School, named after a 19th century Lawrence mayor and school superintendent.
Laura Rico, a consultant for the American Federation of Teachers spent time in Lawrence as teachers and union leaders were developing the partnership school plan.
“I brought resources that they can use and the challenges they can expect so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Rico said. “No one knows the Oliver School as much as the teachers.
“I really believe the only way we are going to be successful in Lawrence is to work as partners, obliviously with the administration and the teachers, but also with parents,” McLaughlin said.
On Saturday, the 29 teachers at the Oliver Partnership School distributed two uniform shirts to each student.
McLaughlin, along with teachers, donated their $100 stipends for classroom supplies to buy the bright red polo shirts. Other donations came from the American Federation of Teachers, AFT Massachusetts and the Lawrence Firefighters Union.
“The teachers wanted to do something special for the students to start the year off right,” McLaughlin said.
Oliver Partnership School’s co-leaders bought classroom supplies for teachers with money from their small discretionary budget.