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THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

School overhaul hits 16 teachers

Lawrence receiver announces firings after evaluations

Superintendent Jeffrey C. Riley at a press conference for Lawrence Public Schools in January. Superintendent Jeffrey C. Riley at a press conference for Lawrence Public Schools in January. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / July 6, 2012
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When Jeffrey C. Riley took over six months ago as superintendent of the Lawrence public schools, he warned that reforming the struggling school system “won’t be painless.”

That prediction is coming to pass.

Nearly 50 teachers in the state-run schools have been identified as “teachers of concern” by a team of evaluators, and 16 have been fired, Riley’s office said yesterday. Eighteen teachers have resigned or retired since receiving the designation.

The firings and targeted review mark the early stages of the state overhaul of the schools, which have long been plagued by instability and poor student performance. Last fall, the state’s education board approved a takeover of the system, the first time state officials had seized full control of a local school district.

The takeover gives Riley broad ­authority to fire and reassign staff members, although teachers have the right to appeal the decision. The Eagle-Tribune newspaper reported the firings Thursday.

Riley, in a statement, said the district’s pronounced struggles call for swift action.

“As one of the lowest performing districts in the state, it is critical that we ensure all employees — teachers, administrators and central ­office staff — meet standards for effectiveness,” the statement said. “I’ve been clear about this from the beginning: Going forward, everyone in Lawrence public schools must be held account­able for our students to get the education they deserve.”

Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence Teachers Union, said he was surprised that Riley chose to remove teachers so soon in the process.

“I never thought he’d go ­after the teachers first,” he said. “A turnaround is a comprehensive process, and we need to work together. Pointing fingers at a few teachers isn’t going to solve the problem.”

McLaughlin noted that a small percentage of the system’s more than 900 teachers fell short of expectations and said he did not believe that any principals or administrators had been fired.

McLaughlin said he is meeting with the fired teachers to discuss their options. Some may contest the decision, he said. Termination letters were sent out in the past week.

“We’re still working it out,” he said. “I will protect the contractual and statutory rights of our members. That’s what I have to do.”

Staffing decisions were based on a thorough review that included MCAS scores, student improvement, and evaluations from principals, the super­intendent’s office said.

Teachers who drew concerns were observed in the classroom during unannounced visits. ­After the review, 13 teachers were placed on improvement plans to address shortcomings.

State officials have said the schools suffer from the inconsistent quality of teachers.

“The quality of teaching and school leadership varies greatly,” education officials wrote in the district’s improvement plan. “And the bar has been set too low.”

McLaughlin said teachers, while anxious about the state’s role, are motivated to make the schools better.

“We want to work together,” he said. “We see the same problems he sees.”

Dan Rivera, a city councilor, said he felt Riley was being fair to teachers, given the severity of the problem.

“It doesn’t seem like a rush to judgment,” he said. “If he can root out bad teachers using a fair process, that will really help improve the system.”

Rivera said that veteran teachers have told him that the district has many teachers who should not be in the classroom, and that Riley has done a good job weeding out the weakest.

“I give him credit,” he said. “It can be a tough process.”

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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