Southbridge schools tagged as candidate for state control

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BOSTON  The Southbridge Public Schools, which have had seven superintendents and seven high school principals since 2011, should be designated chronically underperforming and placed into receivership, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester recommended on Friday.

The Level 5 designation, which would put the Southbridge schools under state control, will be discussed at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education forum on Jan. 25 in Southbridge where parents, teachers, residents and other officials will have a chance to speak.

The designation could come up again at a board meeting on Jan. 26, but a vote on the designation will likely occur on Feb. 23, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In a memo Friday to board members, Chester said he anticipated serving as interim receiver in Southbridge, a district with just under 2,200 students located in south, central Massachusetts. Chester envisions his appointed receiver would assume full authority in Southbridge in April and lead a district turnaround effort featuring “ambitious and accelerated reforms” starting in the spring.

“The students and families in Southbridge need and deserve a strong educational system, and the current system is not serving their needs,” Chester wrote.

State officials reported that a recent review found Southbridge among the lowest performing districts in the state based on students who scored proficient or advanced on the 2015 MCAS, that 34 percent of Southbridge middle and high school students failed at least one course last year, and that the needs of English language learners in the district were not being met.

In his memo, Chester said 98 percent of students in Southbridge designated as English language learners are Spanish speakers and the high school does not have an English language learner teacher or educational aide who speaks Spanish.

“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,” Chester said in a statement. “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.”

Holyoke and Lawrence are the only other two public school systems in Level 5 status in the state.

Written by Michael P. Norton