Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Declares Southbridge Public Schools Chronically Underperforming
Vote authorizes the education commissioner to appoint a receiver for the district to dramatically improve outcomes for all students
BOSTON - The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today voted 9-0 with one abstention to designate Southbridge Public Schools a chronically underperforming ("Level 5") district, thereby authorizing Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester to appoint a receiver for the district.
That receiver, which will be an individual or a non-profit group with a proven record of success in improving low-performing schools or districts or the academic performance of disadvantaged students, will have all the powers of the superintendent and school committee and will report directly to the commissioner.
"Receivership is a measure of last resort, but short of taking this step, I have no confidence that Southbridge schools are poised for a better future," Commissioner Chester said. "I thank the Board for their vote, and I look forward to building on the district's assets and addressing its challenges."
The Board's level of concern about the Southbridge Public Schools grew following the release of a recent district review that found:
- 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;
- 34 percent of students at Southbridge Middle/High School failed at least one course in 2015;
- 19 percent of students at Southbridge Middle/High School were suspended at least once in 2015;
- The needs of English language learners were not being met, and the district was out of compliance with regulations regarding English language learners; and
- The district has had seven superintendents and seven high school principals since 2011.
The Achievement Gap Act of 2010 provided the mechanism for the Board's vote to designate a school district as chronically underperforming. Under the statute, Commissioner Chester and the receiver he appoints will create a Level 5 District Turnaround Plan that will include priorities and strategies to accelerate achievement with measurable benchmarks of progress that connect directly to improved outcomes for students in all schools. To assist in the development of that plan, a local stakeholder group will be convened to provide recommendations on the plan's content. That group will include representatives from multiple stakeholders groups, including teachers, families, social service agencies, early education, higher education and the Southbridge community.
The commissioner is expected to name a receiver in the near future, with the goal that the receiver will assume authority as soon as possible. During the 2016-17 school year, the receiver will begin to implement the Level 5 District Turnaround Plan. The Commissioner and receiver will provide regular updates to the Board, the Southbridge School Committee, and Southbridge stakeholders regarding Level 5-related efforts to improve outcomes for students.
The Board's vote was informed by public comment from the Southbridge community, which included written statements and a special meeting in Southbridge on January 25 at which more than 40 individuals representing municipal, district, union, parent, student and community stakeholders addressed the Board directly.