As many expected, Commissioner Mitchell Chester recommended that the State take over the Southbridge school system and place it in receivership.
The exact details of how that action will occur still require that several steps be played out. The first is a public hearing here in Southbridge on January 25th followed by a vote of the Board of Directors of the DESE on January 26th or February 23rd.
Assuming the Board votes to support the Commissioner a Turnaround Plan will be worked out between the DESE, the group or individual chosen as receiver and local stakeholders. Until this plan is issued all the details of the receivership remain speculative.
The Commissioner’s press release follows:
Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester today recommended that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education designate Southbridge Public Schools a Level 5, or chronically underperforming, district. The designation would put the district under state control.
"Despite significant effort over the past dozen years by educators and students in the district, as well as efforts by the Commonwealth to support educational improvement, Southbridge Public Schools continue to have low academic performance, low graduation rates and unstable leadership," Commissioner Chester said. "Southbridge students are as capable as students anywhere in the Commonwealth, but the district is falling well short of its responsibility to provide them with an effective education."
In making the recommendation, Commissioner Chester drew on information from a recent district review that found:
· O Southbridge was among the lowest performing districts in the state in terms of the percentage of students who scored Proficient or Advanced on the 2015 MCAS assessments;
· O 34 percent of students at Southbridge Middle/High School failed at least one course in 2015;
· O 9 percent of students at Southbridge Middle/High School were suspended at least once in 2015;
· O The needs of English language learners were not being met, and the district was out of compliance with regulations regarding English language learners; and
· O The district has had seven superintendents and seven high school principals since 2011.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will hold a forum from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, January 25, 2016 to hear from the Southbridge community as the Board considers whether to designate Southbridge a Level 5 district. The meeting will be held in the Cole Avenue Auditorium, 25 Cole Ave., Southbridge. The Board's primary goal is to hear from Southbridge parents, teachers, residents, and officials. Individuals who would like to speak should sign in when they arrive and will be given three minutes to speak within the time allotted. Southbridge community members will be given priority. Translation services will be provided for individuals who wish to address the Board in Spanish. People may also submit written comments in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org or at the meeting. Individuals who submit written comments at the meeting are asked to provide 15 copies if possible.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education may discuss Southbridge at their January 26, 2016, meeting but their vote on whether to designate Southbridge Public Schools a Level 5 district will likely come at the Board's February 23 regular meeting.
The following overview lists the anticipated next steps if the Board votes a designation of “chronic underperformance” for Southbridge in February. This timetable is subject to change:
- From date of Board vote – March 2016: Transition of Authority and Receiver Identified
- The Commissioner will serve as receiver on an interim basis
- Commissioner names receiver, implements transition plan, defines roles and responsibilities on governance and operations
- April 2016: Receiver Assumes Full Authority
- Receiver begins working in the district, and assumes all the authority and responsibility of the superintendent and school committee for the Southbridge Public Schools
- March to May 2016: Planning and Engagement
Receiver gathers and analyzes data to determine the framework for a rigorous and realistic Level 5 District Turnaround Plan
- Local Stakeholder Group convenes to develop recommendations for the content of the district Turnaround Plan (per M.G.L. Chapter 69, s. 1K(b))
- Community Conversations are convened to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the district and answer questions about receivership
- Analysis of Assets and Challenges is performed to prioritize strategies and inform Turnaround Plan content
- Framework for Level 5 District Plan is drafted
- · Beginning June 2016: Approval and Implementation of District Turnaround PlanReceiver aligns governance structure, budget development, plans for staffing, and instructional supports to implement the Turnaround Plan and create the conditions for accelerated student achievement.o Level 5 District Turnaround Plan is approved by the Commissioner and released to the public. The plan includes district priorities (with implications for human resource and budget decisions) and strategies to accelerate student achievement. The plan also sets benchmarks and the results for which the receiver will be held accountable.o Implementation of Turnaround Plano Aligning Human and Fiscal Resources to priorities in District Turnaround Plan.o School Level Plans developed and implemented with input of teachers, parents, and administratorso Ongoing Parent and Community Participationo Quarterly Updates to the Board, school committee, and public