State to take over Dever, Holland elementary schools

By 
Andy Metzger, State House News Service
Oct. 30, 2013

The state will take over four chronically under-performing schools that have been "stuck" as other troubled schools have made "quite good progress," Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester announced Wednesday.

The four schools - Dever Elementary and Holland Elementary, in Boston, the Morgan Full Service Community School in Holyoke and John Parker Elementary in New Bedford - were the only schools identified as possible takeover subjects when standardized test scores came out in September.

New Bedford and Holyoke have new superintendents and Boston is searching for its next superintendent, Chester said, commenting that despite efforts, the schools' leadership has failed to generate a coherent plan for improving academic performance.

"What I didn't find as I listened to the litany of programs was a coherence to what was being done," Chester said during a conference call with reporters. He said, "One of the things that has struck me in the four schools is that there isn't a lack of initiatives happening in these schools. In fact in each case the school community has enumerated multiple initiatives, some of which are focused on instruction, some of which are focused on the social-emotional environment, some of which deal with parent outreach."

Chester said he will meet with stakeholders next month, followed by his development of a turnaround plan, feedback on the plan, and choice of leadership to direct the turnaround with an aim that the plan will be "going full bore by the fall in each of these four schools."

"We're not interested in wiping the slate clean, blindly," said Chester, who left open the possibility of using the existing superintendents to implement the plans.

The state takeover is an element of an education law signed in January 2010, intended to increase accountability and make the state available for Race to the Top federal funding.

"The turnaround plan can require that all existing staff reapply for their jobs. I don't have to do that. I will certainly look at the existing staff," Chester said, noting the law allows any part of an existing contract deemed an "impediment" to the turnaround can be changed through an "expedited process."

While Chester said education officials will look into potential state and federal funding to "jump start" the plan and lure potential management, he said the purpose of the state takeover is to run the schools efficiently, not pour new funding into them.

"We need to be able to run these schools on the funds that are available to them," Chester said, noting that the Lawrence School District, which the state took over, is funded near the minimum level.

Lawrence was the first school district taken into state receivership, and the four schools in Boston, New Bedford and Holyoke are the first individual schools to cede management to the state.

"In the case of Lawrence it's a much more comprehensive look at a full district, and the operations of the district, the structure, the relationship of the district to the central office," Chester said.

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