Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Lynn caterer serves up language lessons

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Marcos Torres gets his diploma for finishing workplace-based English classes.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — Sidekim Foods, a Lynn-based catering company, is partnering with World Education, Inc. to teach Spanish speaking employees basic English at the workplace.

World Education, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provides training and technical assistance in literacy, workplace, and HIV and AIDS education around the world.

Sidekim is owned by Peter Mikedis, who said teaching his entry-level employees English is beneficial to his staff and business.

“For us, it’s important (the employees) learn because it helps us as a company,” Mikedis said. “Maybe in six months, their English will be better and they will qualify for a supervisor position. They already know Sidekim foods. You can teach someone how to operate a machine but you can’t teach them values like dedication and loyalty.”

His father, who immigrated from Greece, spent time learning English in a classroom after working a factory job to provide for his family, he said. To make learning the language more convenient, he is allowing his employees to take a two-hour class twice a week while getting paid.

The 28-week program, which will be offered three times in three years, is paid for with a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education totaling about $120,000, said World Education coordinator Kathleen O’Connell. The money covers the cost of educating 10 employees during each session.

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“Every adult ESL program in the state, if it’s any good, will have a 100-person waiting list,” said Silja Kallenbach, vice president of World Education. “So this is really special.”

Teacher Dakota Robinson said a lot of the lessons centered on vocabulary and grammar that may be used in the workplace.

“They’re learning names and words for things that are helpful for the job,” said Robinson. “To be able to say in English ‘I’m having a problem with this packing machine’ is very important.”

Robinson also taught the students about workplace safety and the reasons behind wearing hair nets, gloves, and taking other safety precautions, she said.

Mildred Escobar, a student who moved to the United States from Guatemala, said she enjoyed the class most because she now has “a little more confidence speaking and writing.”

The class will begin again in the fall with 10 students.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Malden school suspends hair extension ban

SCREENSHOT FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
“Even if I get expelled, I don’t care; the policy is inappropriate,” Mya Cook said.

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — A Malden-based charter school has suspended its policy ban on students wearing hair extensions for the remainder of the school year following a directive from state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office  on Friday that the policy “appears to be … clearly unlawful.”

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s (MVRCS) board of trustees met in a closed meeting Sunday night to review the school’s Uniform Policy regulations, which include the hair policy. Following the nearly three-hour meeting, interim Director Alexander Dan announced the action.

“The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School board of trustees unanimously voted tonight to suspend the hair section of the uniform policy for the remainder of the school year,” Dan said to some media members outside the meeting Sunday. “The school will continue to work with the attorney general’s office to ensure that the uniform policy reflects our long-standing commitment to the rights of all of our students.”

Dan also said students who were facing consequences for violating that policy may now also resume all school activities.

On Monday morning, the school released a detailed letter, where it stood by its overall Uniform Policy and cited its value and results.  “Our Uniform Policy is central to the success of our students. It helps provide commonality, structure, and equity to an ethnically and economically diverse student body while eliminating distractions caused by vast socio-economic differences and competition over fashion, style and materialism.”

The letter went on, “Our formula consistently delivers top results. Our African-American students have higher MCAS and SAT scores than African-American students from all other districts in our region, and nearly all attend college. Our dropout and attrition rates for African-American students are not only lower than those from our sending district, but they are lower than Caucasian rates. The role that our Uniform Policy plays in our results, and those of all our students, is not insignificant.”

The MVRCS dress code policy regarding hair extensions, where two sisters, who are black, received before and after school detentions and other punishments for refusing to remove hair extensions from their braids, has been at the center of a recent controversy which has been reported nationally.

School responds to hair policy uproar

The mother of the two MVRCS high school students contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP and state AG’s office asking those agencies to investigate the situation, citing what she called discrimination based on her daughters’ race.

The mother and her daughters were among a contingent of protesters who were present at the start of Sunday’s MVRCS Trustees meeting, a number of whom waited until the end of the meeting for news.

A letter sent to the school Friday after a meeting at the Malden Square headquarters of the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) stated: “State law prohibits discrimination by public schools, including charter schools, against students ‘on account of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or  sexual orientation.’” The letter, obtained by NECN, reads: “We are concerned that MVRCS’s Hair/Make­Up policy violates state and federal law … by subjecting students of color, especially black students,  to differential treatment and thus denying them the same advantages and privileges of public education afforded to  other students.”

In its letter, Mystic Valley stated the school administration had already started implementing changes to its hair policy before the recent controversy, specifically to the provision against hair that is more than two inches in height.

“This change was made well before any outside interest group or government agency raised a concern, for the first time earlier this month, that our state-approved policy might be impacting any class of students unfairly,” the letter reads. “It should also be noted that in cases where a student had a substantiated religious or medical conflict with our policy, the school adjusted its policies to accommodate those concerns.”

Mystic Valley officials also stated they believed the existing policy would stand up in court, despite the AG’s assertions. “While we believe there is precedent confirming that our policy could stand a legal challenge … we do not wish to engage in a legal battle that would divert the focus and energy of our faculty and students, siphoning financial resources from the school and the students it serves,” the letter said.

The school will now work with the AG’s office on a Uniform Policy, and hair regulation, that “is consistent with our long-standing commitment to the rights of all our students,” stated the school’s letter.

School responds to hair policy uproar

SCREENSHOT FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mystic Valley Interim Director Alex Dan speaks with the media.

Response from MYSTIC VALLEY REGIONAL CHARTER SCHOOL

As you may know, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has reviewed our uniform policy in response to a parent complaint about the policy’s prohibition on artificial hair extensions. That review included a meeting on Thursday, and has led to a preliminary course of action that is described below.

We wish to thank Attorney General Maura Healey for the productive clarity and guidance provided by her office. In prompting students to focus on what they have in common, our uniform policy is central to the success of our students.

It helps provide commonality, structure,and equity to an ethnically and economically diverse student body while eliminating distractions caused by vast socioeconomic differences and competition over fashion, style or materialism.

The uniform policy compels students to train their attention inward, on character and core competencies that allow students to pursue rich, happy lives.

Mystic Valley’s uniform policy has remained largely unchanged since the school was founded. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the school’s governing body, has reviewed it at least six times in the last 15 years, as part of each of the school’s three renewal visits and for three consecutive years while the school was on conditions.

In each of its reviews, DESE identified no concerns. Our formula consistently delivers top results. Our African-American students have higher MCAS and SAT scores than African-American students from all other districts in the region, and nearly all attend college.

Our dropout and attrition rates for African-American students are not only lower than those in sending districts, but they are lower than Caucasian rates. The role that our uniform policy plays in these results, and those of all our students, is not insignificant.

Of course, despite the vast importance of the uniform policy on the performance of our students, the policy must comport with our long-held commitment, as stated in our parent-student handbook and on our website, to offer the same advantages, privileges and courses of study to all students, regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.

Malden school suspends hair extension ban

Some have asserted that our prohibition on artificial hair extensions violates a “cultural right,” but that view is not supported by the courts, which distinguish between policies that affect a person’s natural “immutable” characteristics and those that prohibit practices based on changeable cultural norms.

You should know that we categorically rejected an order from the DESE, which was influenced by media reports, to cease all disciplinary actions associated with our entire uniform policy. We believe that following this directive would have disastrous consequences on our ability to create the structure and equity central to the success of our students, and that it would fundamentally alter the nature of the environment you chose for your children.

Attorney General Healey’s office did not assert the existence of a “cultural right” and, instead, based its opposition to the hair policy on its concern that the policy’s impact may fall disproportionately on African-American students.

To remedy its concerns, the attorney general’s office requested that the school stop disciplining students for violations of three specific components of the uniform policy’s hair section.

The school had already determined, eight months before the current complaint, that we would not enforce the provision against hair that was more than two inches in height, based on productive conversations with members of our community, according to our standard internal complaint procedure.

This change was made well before any outside interest group or government agency raised a concern for the first time earlier this month, that our state-approved policy might be impacting any class of students unfairly. It should also be noted that in cases where a student had a substantiated religious or medical conflict with our policy, the school adjusted its policies to accommodate those concerns.

While we believe there is precedent confirming that our policy would withstand a legal challenge and data showing that we have implemented the policy in an equitable manner, we do not wish to engage in a legal battle that would further divert the focus and energy of our faculty and students, siphoning financial resources from the school and the students it serves.

For these reasons, the board of trustees of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School has voted to suspend enforcement of the hair section of its uniform policy for the remainder of the school year.

As we undertake our annual review of the uniform policy for the coming school year, we will work collaboratively with the attorney general’s office to make sure that the policy is consistent with our long-standing commitment to the rights of all our students. Mystic Valley remains committed to implementing the mission of the school and all of its underlying principles.

 

Malden school faces state ACLU complaint

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has filed a complaint against Mystic Valley Regional Charter School for allegedly disciplining and suspending African-American and biracial students because their hairstyles violate school policy.

The Associated Press reports that the ACLU filed the complaint Monday with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for what it says is a discriminatory policy at the Malden charter school.

Coincidentally, the DESE headquarters are located on Pleasant Street in Malden Square.   

Mother says daughters punished for hairstyles

Parents say students were punished for wearing braids with hair extensions. They contend white students have not been disciplined for coloring their hair, which also is banned under the dress code, according to the AP.

The school does ban hair extensions, which tend to be “very expensive,” a statement last week on behalf of Mystic Valley Interim Director Alex Dan said. But Jennifer Rosenberg of Howell Communications, an agency representing the school, said Monday that braids are not banned.

Last week’s statement said the ban on hair extensions is designed to “foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism.”

School spending ‘thorn in our side,’ mayor says

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Five months after the state threatened to withhold millions in school funds, the city is on the hook again as they face a spending shortfall, The Item has learned.

On Thursday, the Department of Education is expected to tell Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy that following a review of the city’s finances, school spending is off by about $826,000. As a result, the state may withhold that amount from Lynn’s $11 million monthly allocation of Chapter 70 school payments in June.

Peter Caron, Lynn’s chief financial officer, said the city is again working to get school spending back on track.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “We are trying to guess how much money we will spend on schools, but the state doesn’t do the accounting until six months after the fiscal year is over. It all goes back to the health insurance; we don’t know in May how much we will spend on it. It’s a crap shoot.”

Kennedy said she expects the school spending issue to be resolved, but she’s not sure how.

“Overall, net school spending has been a thorn in our side for a number of years,” she said. “When you increase the number of students in the schools by nearly 20 percent over the last six years, it causes problems on how to pay for it.”

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Lynn is the fifth largest district in the Bay State with more than 16,000 students.

“Until we can slow the increase in school population or look to possible federal assistance, we will not be able to meet the threshold spending for the foreseeable future,” she said.

The city’s finances came into focus last year when the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told the mayor that the city’s contribution to school funding was short by $7.5 million and the state threatened to withhold its $11 million November payment in school funds until City Hall came up with more cash.

Since then, the school deficit has been reduced to less than $1 million and the state money was released to the city.

John J. Sullivan, DOE’s associate commissioner, declined to comment until the letter is issued to the mayor.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Lynn charter gets second state hearing

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Despite some vocal opposition as well as some support, Frank DeVito expressed optimism that the city would go forward with Equity Lab Charter School, his second attempt to bring another charter into Lynn.

DeVito spoke at a public hearing Wednesday, held by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education  (ESE) as residents and city officials weighed in on a second charter school.

City and school officials spoke against a second charter school in the city, arguing that charters take money away from traditional public schools. This year, $17 million of Lynn’s budget for its public schools are being diverted to charters. KIPP Academy is the only other charter school in Lynn.

“Please, let us not forget that the voters of Massachusetts have spoken and spoken loudly,” said Lynn School Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham. “They do not want more charter schools that send funding away from traditional public schools. They do not want the state or ESE to continue to destroy public confidence in public education. They do not want to see more schools that are simply trying to replicate programs that already exist in traditional public schools and work to drive a wedge into the system. And they do not want charter school students in jeopardy of being taught in an experimental environment.”

Charter school plans still alive

A ballot initiative that would have authorized up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools annually by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was defeated by Massachusetts voters in November.

DeVito was invited by ESE  in September to submit a full application for his proposal. Applications are being reviewed by state education department staff and external review panelists. Mitchell D. Chester, elementary and secondary education commissioner, will then make his recommendation to the board, and a vote will be held at their February 2017 meeting.

DeVito, who argued another charter school would give parents more choice, tried to bring the charter school to Lynn last year under the name Central Square Public Charter School, but eventually withdrew the proposal for a 160-seat facility for fifth and sixth graders.

He gained more traction this year when he and his team were finalists in a national competition to redesign the American high school, the XQ Super School Project challenge, but failed to win a $10 million prize toward the proposed charter school.

Equity Lab’s proposal is for a grade 5 to 12 school, with a maximum enrollment of 640 students, and would be focused on experienced-based learning, rather than textbook reading. If approved, DeVito intends to open the school in 2018.

Many of the residents in attendance echoed DeVito’s argument that charters give families another option for schooling.

Mildred Morales, a Lynn resident, said she has a daughter who went to a charter school. She said her daughter got the attention she needed with a charter. She was also taught self-esteem and self-control.

Brandi Walker also spoke in favor of Equity Lab. She attended Lynn Public Schools and said students in low-income areas of the city are not getting the same education as those in wealthier parts.

“It’s time for change,” she said. “We need to have other options.”

Barbara Cook, a retired teacher in Lynn Public Schools, spoke against Equity because she said the city doesn’t need another school. She said the city’s public schools already offer innovative curriculum and has competitive test scores.

“Why spread taxes even thinner?” she asked.

Sheila O’Neil, a teacher in Lynn Public Schools, said the money diverted to charters takes away from services for traditional public school students.

“We could do a lot with $17 million,” she said. “We could service the hell out of our students. I oppose any opening of any charter school.”

DeVito is looking at three locations for Equity, if approved. He’s considering the former Item building at 38 Exchange St. and the Lynn Armory building on South Common Street, but is leaning toward a more cost-effective solution of module buildings on several open lots until a long-term facility is found.

If the school is approved, the state would provide DeVito $800 per student to lease or purchase space. For the first year, he anticipates 160 students, as he expects to serve grades 5 and 6, expanding by one grade each year, which would result in an additional $128,000 from the state. The new school would receive $2.1 million from Lynn Public Schools, or $13,233 per student who switches schools.

He said he would still have to raise about $250,000 for the school to launch and is applying to foundations to make up the difference. He’s also expecting some funding from The Emerson Collective, the foundation that funded the XQ Super School Project.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

School committee studies Lynn suspension rates

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN — The school committee followed up on a pledge to investigate suspension data across schools at a meeting last Monday.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler said that ever since the passage of new legislation in 2014, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has run regular analysis on school suspension rates.  

“They put school’s business out on the streets, so to speak,” said Tutwiler.

Tutwiler said that every school in the city is meeting state expectations and that suspension rates have been going down overall for the past several years. One sub-group of students is not being suspended at a higher rate than any other, he said.

Tutwiler said that while there is a higher percentage of suspensions among some groups, such as Hispanics, it isn’t disproportionate to the 61 percent Hispanic student body at Lynn English High School.  

The committee focused on suspension data at the high school level since there were few suspensions in the elementary and middle schools.

Factors of race, special education status and income were compared in correlation to suspension rates and causes of suspension. The most common causes of suspension across the schools were failure to show up for detention and repetitive tardiness.  

While one school does not have an in-school suspension policy, the committee clarified that Saturday detention exists as an alternative means of holding students accountable.

At a previous meeting, committee member Jared Nicholson questioned why a disparity in suspension numbers across schools existed if suspension policies were being implemented consistently.

During a phone call after the meeting, committee Vice-Chair Patricia Capano emphasized the impact of school-based management on the data.

“Each principal has the right and the duty to manage each school as they see fit, but we don’t have across-the-board policies,” said Capano. “That’s important because you’re going to see that each of these schools are different.”

An ad hoc uniform committee also met for the first time at the meeting. Its members made plans to look into the issue of school uniforms by reaching out for feedback from teachers, principals and students.

School suspension policy raises concerns in Lynn

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham
 

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN — City schools are taking a closer look at how discipline is doled out.

At Thursday night’s school committee meeting, several members raised concerns about how the district’s suspension policy is applied.

Committee member Maria Carrasco asked whether Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham could provide more information regarding the discipline code.

Carrasco specifically wanted to know more about suspension procedures related to the youngest students and those with behavioral problems. She also expressed a fear that the same students who are suspended regularly in grammar school are more likely to drop out in later grades.  

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler said that suspension rates have been dropping across city schools and cited statistics submitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

According to Tutwiler, Lynn English High School had a 30 percent suspension rate three years ago; it is now 18 percent. Lynn Tech and Classical High School also both saw drops in suspension rates over the same period.

Tutwiler said he believes those drops have a lot to do with schools embracing the spirit of a recently passed law that relegates suspension to a last resort as a disciplinary measure.

“In my humble opinion, we’re headed in the right direction,” said Tutwiler.

Committee member Jared Nicholson agreed that the downward trend in suspensions points to movement in the right direction, but questioned why there was disparity in the numbers across schools if suspension policies were being implemented consistently.

Another issue discussed during the meeting was the lack of space for in-school suspension programs at some of the facilities, notably at English High School.

Carrasco and member John Ford Jr. both said students see out-of-school suspensions as a vacation and are less prone to take the punishment seriously.

“Kids shouldn’t be punished because we don’t have the space. We need to find it for those kids,” said committee Vice-Chair Patricia Capano.

Latham said she would work with school principals to carve out some space. She also said she would come up with a report on minority suspension data for the next meeting.

Lynn charter school channels Steve Jobs

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Frank DeVito in Central Square in Lynn.

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Frank DeVito hopes his group’s showing at a competition to redesign the American high school will win $10 million towards a new charter school.

DeVito, the leader of movement to bring Central Square Public Charter School to Lynn last year, withdrew the proposal for a 160-seat facility for fifth and sixth graders.

Now, the group has changed its name to Equity Lab Charter School and plans to resubmit its application to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in July.

While it’s not a real school yet, DeVito and his team have advanced to the final phase of the XQ: Super School Project.

The project was launched last fall to rethink and redesign the American high school. Applicants included teams of students, teachers, parents and community leaders nationwide, whose mission was to conceptualize innovative models for 21st century learning.

Equity was one of 348 teams from 41 states to advance to the final phase. That list was narrowed from 700 teams from 45 states that submitted applications for new or redesigned high schools.

XQ Institute, a California-based nonprofit, includes a board of directors chaired by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Inc. Jobs, president of the Emerson Collective, sponsors the $50 million competition. Five finalists will each receive $10 million grants. Winners will be announced in August.

DeVito said his team would use the cash to launch their new school. If his group won, DeVito said he’d feel “vindicated” given the negative attention around their initial charter school proposal. He said winning could bring Equity Lab Charter School to fruition.

“It would build credibility for the school,” DeVito said.

Their proposal is focused on having students study a community problem and solve it. For instance, one of the case studies could be improving the downtown. Students would research other communities to discover how they solved a similar situation.

As the experience-based learning is happening, students would learn math, science and history through the project. He said the idea for the redesign of the American high school would be hands-on learning, rather than reading from a textbook.

“It will actually prepare them for the world outside the school,” DeVito said.

If Equity Lab wins approval, they will face competition from the only other charter school in town, KIPP Academy.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

A United front to tackle dropout rate

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — A joint initiative of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, AmeriCorps and Lynn Public Schools is showing improvements in academic engagement and reducing the dropout rate among immigrant students in Lynn.

The program, which engages middle and high school students, is adding Lynn English High School and Lynn Vocational Technical Institute for the 2015-16 school year.

“We have been extremely pleased and fortunate to have AmeriCorps volunteers in our schools through the United Way’s Lynn AmeriCorps Program,” said Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools. “They have helped many of our newcomers overcome their language-learning challenges and bolster the strength of our services, and they are great examples of the merit of public service. AmeriCorps has become a valuable program for Lynn Public Schools and it is our hope that this program will continue to grow.”

For three years, an AmeriCorps team has worked alongside Lynn Public Schools and community-based organizations in the city to tutor, mentor and provide family support services to immigrant students who may be facing academic challenges.

Nearly 470 middle and high school students received services during the 2014-15 school year. Seventy-five percent showed improved academic engagement and were promoted to the next grade. Sixty percent showed increased performance in a core academic class.

Immigrant and English Language Learning (ELL) students from Lynn Classical High School who received services earned an average grade of 80 percent in the core subject in which they worked with an AmeriCorps member. Immigrant and ELL students at Lynn Classical who did not get AmeriCorps help earned an average grade of 71 percent in the same courses.

“Key to the successful outcomes for students is the increased coordination and communication between the schools and the community-based organizations who are typically providing after-school programmings,” said Michael K. Durkin, president of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “With AmeriCorps team members as connectors, staff from the Lynn schools and the out-of-school time programs could identify students in need of academic support and provide them with tutoring and other services. It’s an example of leveraging all the resources that the city has to offer to help students succeed.”

There are 15 AmeriCorps team members working at Marshall Middle School, Breed Middle School, Lynn Classical High School, Lynn English High School, Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development (LHAND), Girls Inc., New American Center, Lynn YMCA and La Vida and Children’s Law Center.

The partnership selected Lynn because of its concentrated immigrant population. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 54 percent of students in Lynn Public Schools live in a household where English is not the primary language, compared to 18 percent of students statewide.

The graduation rate among ELL students in Lynn is 56 percent, compared to 85 percent statewide, according to the department.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

A United front to tackle dropout rate

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Lynn Superintendent of Schools Catherine Latham praised United Way’s Lynn AmeriCorps program.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — A joint initiative of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, AmeriCorps and Lynn Public Schools is showing improvements in academic engagement and reducing the dropout rate among immigrant students in Lynn.

The program, which engages middle and high school students, is adding Lynn English High School and Lynn Vocational Technical Institute for the 2015-16 school year.

“We have been extremely pleased and fortunate to have AmeriCorps volunteers in our schools through the United Way’s Lynn AmeriCorps Program,” said Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools. “They have helped many of our newcomers overcome their language-learning challenges and bolster the strength of our services, and they are great examples of the merit of public service. AmeriCorps has become a valuable program for Lynn Public Schools and it is our hope that this program will continue to grow.”

For three years, an AmeriCorps team has worked alongside Lynn Public Schools and community-based organizations in the city to tutor, mentor and provide family support services to immigrant students who may be facing academic challenges.

Nearly 470 middle and high school students received services during the 2014-15 school year. Seventy-five percent showed improved academic engagement and were promoted to the next grade. Sixty percent showed increased performance in a core academic class.

Immigrant and English Language Learning (ELL) students from Lynn Classical High School who received services earned an average grade of 80 percent in the core subject in which they worked with an AmeriCorps member. Immigrant and ELL students at Lynn Classical who did not get AmeriCorps help earned an average grade of 71 percent in the same courses.

“Key to the successful outcomes for students is the increased coordination and communication between the schools and the community-based organizations who are typically providing after-school programmings,” said Michael K. Durkin, president of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “With AmeriCorps team members as connectors, staff from the Lynn schools and the out-of-school time programs could identify students in need of academic support and provide them with tutoring and other services. It’s an example of leveraging all the resources that the city has to offer to help students succeed.”

There are 15 AmeriCorps team members working at Marshall Middle School, Breed Middle School, Lynn Classical High School, Lynn English High School, Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development (LHAND), Girls Inc., New American Center, Lynn YMCA and La Vida and Children’s Law Center.

The partnership selected Lynn because of its concentrated immigrant population. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 54 percent of students in Lynn Public Schools live in a household where English is not the primary language, compared to 18 percent of students statewide.

The graduation rate among ELL students in Lynn is 56 percent, compared to 85 percent statewide, according to the department.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

City and state near net result

By THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNNMayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said a long-running school spending disagreement with state officials is almost resolved, allowing her to focus on other city financial priorities.

“It’s definitely near its conclusion,” she said.

Subject to final review by city officials and an approval letter from state education officials, net school spending will become a problem Kennedy is confident the city will have a handle on.

She said a prospective plan calls for the city to erase its $8.9 million net spending obligation over four years, paying each amount out of the city’s spending surplus.

“Everything else I’d like to do in terms of spending money is contingent on getting this done,” Kennedy said on Tuesday.

City Chief Financial Officer Peter Caron said paying down the obligation will come over and above meeting the city’s annual school “full funding” requirements.

“We don’t want to add to the $8.9 million requirement by underfunding the schools,” Caron said.

Lynn’s ability to meet state net spending requirements dates back three years and came to a head when state officials warned in February 2014 that local net spending had dropped $8.5 million below state minimum local school spending requirements.

Faced with that deficit, Kennedy and city budget officials turned to state legislators for help.

State Rep. Robert Fennell and state Sen. Thomas M. McGee worked initially on a plan

to ease Lynn’s school spending obligation by allowing the city to begin counting retired teacher health insurance costs as part of the complicated state spending formula.

The plan expanded into legislation to allow the city to gradually begin counting retired teacher health insurance costs over four years, beginning in 2015.

Net spending reared its head again at the start of the budget planning process last March as city and state educators and budget makers traded views on an $18.6 million “net school spending” shortfall identified on the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

With state officials arguing Lynn has a spending obligation to meet, Kennedy and city officials pointed to education costs burdening the city. They enlisted Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito’s help in brokering a compromise.

“We were able to explain the disparate impact net spending has on cities like Lynn,” Kennedy said.

She said Lynn and other cities face student enrollment expansion challenges and special education and non English-speaker education demands not faced by other communities.


 

Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.