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District-level turnarounds in Massachusetts, Colorado offer choice lessons

Access the story as it originally appeared in Education Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Lawrence, MA, and Denver, CO, have both made district-wide, systemic changes that have improved student outcomes with charter schools as part of the solution, but not the only one.
  • Karen Baroody and Karen Hawley Miles, of Education Resource Strategies, write for The Hechinger Report these two districts have four things in common to achieving systemic change — focusing on people, investing in instruction, embracing choice (but within an overall strategy), and breaking down barriers.
  • Both districts have recruited great teachers and principals as well as supportive central office staff members, invested in better instructional materials and given teachers collaboration time as well as student progress data, worked with successful charter school operators as part of the solution, and benefited from positive working relationships with teacher unions and school boards.

Dive Insight:

The Lawrence, MA, district has been in state receivership since 2010. The public schools were taken over because of dismal performance and such poor leadership the superintendent was convicted of corruption. Nearly 40% of students dropped out. One key element in the district’s improvement has been the community-wide buy-in to effect change. The schools haven’t had to do it alone.

Besides taking a cue from Lawrence’s and Denver’s healthy, complementary relationships with high-performing charters, other districts can see how helpful community partners can be. In Denver, a multigenerational approach to serving families has meant curating strong partnerships with funders and social service organizations to offer adults classes in English, financial management, parenting and more. The goal has been to encourage stability within families to spur student achievement and the impact has been tangible.

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