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Oversight of Lawrence schools shifting to state-appointed board

Riley leaving after six years, may seek state education commissioner’s post

Lawrence public schools receiver Jeff Riley greets families at the start of the school year

 

EDUCATION OFFICIALS UNVEILED the next chapter in state oversight of the Lawrence schools on Wednesday with the announcement that the state receiver, Jeff Riley, will be stepping down at the end of the school year in June and new state-appointed board will oversee the district.

The state took control of the city’s struggling school system in 2011 under provisions of a new state law designed to address chronically low-performing districts like Lawrence. Riley was named receiver/superintendent in 2012 and given sweeping authority over everything from staffing decisions to curriculum and the structure and length of the school day.

The state will continue its control of the district, but will name a “partnership board” that will include local members and state officials to hire and work with the next superintendent.

“It seems like it’s a good next step,” said Jeff Wulfson, the state’s acting education commissioner. “It’s a way of bringing together some of the state folks and local voices.” The new board will assume control of the district on July 1.

Riley said it felt like “the right time” for a change. He said he’s not sure what he’ll do next, but said he is giving thought to

Lawrence schools receiver Jeff Riley

applying for the state education commissioner’s post. Wulfson was named acting commissioner in June following the death of the state’s longtime education commissioner, Mitchell Chester, but has said he won’t be a candidate for the permanent appointment.

“It’s something I will consider,” Riley said of the top state education post. “Obviously there’s a deadline coming up.”

Applications for the state education post are due by December 15.

Wulfson said details of the partnership board still need to be finalized, but he anticipates it will have five to seven members. The state education commissioner will make all appointments to the board, which will become the official receiver for the district. The board will, in turn, hire the next superintendent, with the state commissioner having final approval power over the selection.

“We’re not mincing words about it,” said Wulfson. “It’s still receivership, [the board] will still report to the commissioner.”

But he said there would be “a very different dynamic” with a board that holds regular public meetings and that includes local representation. He said the state is “borrowing a little” from the model being used in Springfield, where a state-local oversight board has authority over a group of 11 schools that remain part of the district but enjoy more flexibility over staffing, curriculum, and other issues.

Read more on CommonWealth magazine…

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

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