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Lynn schools write a success story with improved MCAS scores

LYNN — School officials are celebrating improved MCAS scores, which have moved Lynn Public Schools out of the bottom 10 percent of school districts in the state for student performance scores on the test.

Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham attributes the higher test scores to new curriculum materials and professional development for the teachers on how to use those materials, which the district has put into place over the years.

She said there is staff support in the classrooms and new K-12 books in all subjects. In addition, new materials come with computer versions, so students can access the material online at home.

Deputy Superintendent Kimberlee Powers said there’s been a huge emphasis on making sure all curriculum is aligned with the standards set out by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Latham said the city’s ranking has improved because the district has made so much growth, both on academic achievement and student growth, adding that Lynn remains first in the 10 commissioners’ districts.

The district’s ranking, which is issued by DESE, improved from 27 of the 29 lowest performing districts in the state on MCAS scores, to 51 of about 289 total districts, which gets them out of the bottom 10 percent.

“This is in spite of the fact that every year, we get more and more students for whom English is not their first language,” Latham said. “Can you imagine a class where no students speak English? What do you do? Our teachers know what to do and it’s amazing. They have to be tested the second year they’re here and … be at grade level proficiency.

“I think with all of the challenges we’ve seen, it’s really something to celebrate.”

But Lynn still has some work to do.

When it comes to high school graduation rates, at nearly 74 percent, Lynn was lower than the state average of 88 percent last year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education.

A handful of urban communities fared better, including Everett at 77.5 percent, Brockton at nearly 78 percent, Lowell 82 percent, Worcester at 83, and Somerville is 84.

In addition, while the statewide dropout rate is 5 percent, Lynn’s was 15 percent last year, the state found.

Still, the district’s improved ranking put a damper on charter school expansion in the city, as the net school spending cap is reduced from 18 percent to 9 percent, which allows for fewer charter school seats, Latham said.

Cities and towns are limited to 9 percent of their net school spending, which is what can go out of their budget for charter schools. If a school district is in the lowest 10 percent of all districts in the state, the cap is 18 percent, which allows for more charter school seats and more charter schools.

Last month, the department of education put a hold on the proposed expansion of KIPP Academy Charter School and plans for a second charter school in the city.

Acting Commissioner Jeff Wulfson told KIPP officials he would not recommend their request to add 1,000 more students in Lynn and also denied the Equity Lab Charter School’s application to open a grade 5-12 school.

Net school spending is money the state gives to schools to support each child. But if a child goes to charter schools, the money goes there, Latham said.

“Presumably, the point is that if your district is doing poorly, you should be given an out,” Latham said. “You should be given an opportunity to get a seat out of the school system.”

But when students leave to go to charter schools, the district can’t lay off teachers or reduce much of what it does to make up for that loss of funding, because with such a huge school system, it’s barely noticed when those students are gone, she said. She said it’s like losing money because when students go from traditional public schools to charter schools, they take the money with them.

On the current list, which was issued by the department last spring and is based on 2015 and 2016 student assessment results, Lynn’s rank of 27 put them in the bottom 10 percent.

But results based on 2016 and 2017 assessment results show that Lynn will be moving out of the bottom 10 percent, with a new ranking of 51.

But Latham said she doesn’t object to charter schools.

“The one thing I do object to is the different rules that charter schools (have) as opposed to us,” Latham said. “They don’t have to be licensed, although they try and make them licensed now. They get to do things that possibly we don’t. They act like private schools.

“I understand parents want options, but I think this shows the parents in Lynn that we’re doing quite well. I hope it makes them feel good about the Lynn Public Schools. I do. My children all went through the Lynn Public Schools, as did I, and I feel very good about the place the schools are in right now.”

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