LAWRENCE — The city took a first step toward taking back control of its schools Tuesday when the board that will continue running them for the state after Receiver Jeff Riley leaves this spring met for the first time and began work on task number one: hiring a superintendent to manage the daily operation of the schools under the board’s oversight.
Acting state Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson appointed the seven-member board after Riley announced he would leave Lawrence by July 1, nearly seven years after the state took over the city schools, citing their chronic underachievement, and named Riley to run them. When he leaves, Riley will succeed Wulfson as state education commissioner.
“We think there will be no shortage of interested and talented educators who want to come here,” Wulfson told the board in rallying it to its cause and defining its mission. “You may not realize it, but Lawrence is well known around the state and the nation for the work that’s going on here. Folks who want to be on the cutting edge of designing and operating an outstanding urban school system are looking to the work that’s happening here. So I fully expect you’re going to have your choice of good candidates (for superintendent). Do your best to come up with someone who can lead us in the years ahead and lead the transition back to full local control. That’s really where we’re headed to at the end of this. The state has no interest in being a permanent fixture here in Lawrence.”
The board, which Wulfson named the Lawrence Alliance for Education and incorporated as a non-profit agency, will act only as a consultant to Riley and Wulfson until Riley’s departure sometime before July 1, when it will take over the full — and vast — powers of receiver. Until then, its only task will be to search for a superintendent by Riley’s departure.
Before appointing the board, Wulfson posted the job specifications for superintendent on the school district’s website — www.lawrence.k12.ma.us — and hired a consultant to help organize the search because he said it already is “late in the cycle for hiring new superintendents.”
The consultant, Ed McCormick of the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, outlined several steps of the search, beginning with holding six days of focus groups with teachers, students, School Committee members and other stakeholders to gather their input, and ending with conducting background checks on the finalists, negotiating a contract with the new superintendent and helping organize the transition.
Critics of the process were lining up even before Tuesday night’s meeting ended. Among them was Marialana Rivera, vice chair of the School Committee, who said committee members were not alerted that the meeting would take place.
“It’s unclear what our role is going to be,” said Rivera, who is not related to the mayor. “We received no information about how we’re going to collaborate with the Alliance going forward. There’s been no transparency in the transition process (from Riley to the board). We want it to feel like it’s a team effort.”
Besides Rivera, School Committee members Elissa Salas and teachers union president Frank McLaughlin were in the audience for the meeting, which was held at the former high school, now the North Common Education Complex.
Of the board’s seven members, four are from Lawrence. The four are Mayor Daniel Rivera; Patricia Mariano, a member of the Lawrence School Committee and a former principal of the Francis Leahy School; insurance agent Julia Silverio; and Lawrence Community Works executive director Jessica Andors (who arrived at Tuesday night’s meeting on a bicycle, along with her young son).
The other members are John Connors, a former Boston city councilor who ran for mayor of Boston four years ago and is now executive director of The 1647 Inc. in Boston, an organization that helps schools increase family engagement; Ventura Rodriguez, associate commissioner for the statewide system of support at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; and Noemi Custodia-Lora, a vice president of Northern Essex Community College in charge of the college’s Lawrence campus.
Connors is chairing the board.