LYNN — The challenges facing city schools are also its strengths, according to a study released by School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler.
The study, which Tutwiler called the district’s “entry plan,” focused on the diversity in the student body. The superintendent’s report shows a district challenged with meeting the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs), an increasing number of students who have experienced trauma, and steadily increasing enrollment that’s putting a further strain on overcrowded schools that have an average age of more than 80 years old.
“In sum, the goals of the entry plan, most notably better understanding the student experience, the community, and the organization were certainly achieved,” Tutwiler wrote.
The district’s diverse student body was found to be one of its major strengths, with those interviewed speaking about the many languages and cultures practiced in the city, which can help prepare students for the world beyond K-12 education. But respondents said meeting the needs of that diverse student body is a major district challenge.
Although more than 84 percent of the student population in the Lynn Public Schools is non-white, the district’s staff doesn’t reflect that diversity; nearly 90 percent of the district’s staff is white.
Of the district’s students, 63 percent are Hispanic, 9.2 percent are African American, 8.5 percent are Asian and 15.4 percent are white. Comparatively, 59 percent of the state’s student population is white, 20.8 percent is Hispanic, 9.2 percent is African American and 7 percent is Asian.
“Participants cited the shift in student demographics over the past decade or more toward one reflecting larger numbers of students for whom English is not their first language,” reads Tutwiler’s report, which shows that 54.6 percent of the district’s students have a first language other than English. “Related to meeting the needs of a diverse student body, there was consistent mention of the lack of racial and linguistic diversity among staff on all levels and in all positions in the district.”
The findings are based on information gathered through a series of interviews, forums, document sharing and partnering with a consultant from Planning for Success to concurrently develop a five-year district strategic plan. The previous district plan expired in 2017.
The report shows the district needs to better address the learning needs of ELL students, the group with the lowest four-year-graduation rate. In the 2017-18 school year, 55.8 percent of those students dropped out, and fewer than half graduated in four years.
English language learners are also the district’s fastest growing subgroup — they accounted for 25 percent of the student body this past school year, compared to 17.8 percent in 2014, according to the report.
The report shows a significant increase in the number of students who have experienced trauma in their lives in recent years, which might reflect the shifting socioeconomic diversity among students.
Tutwiler said this results in dysregulated behavior and attendance issues, which both directly impact learning. The district has been working to meet the social and emotional (SEL) needs of students, he said, which includes rolling out a new K-5 SEL curriculum in the fall.
Another challenge revolves around increased enrollment and the state of the district’s “inadequate” and aging schools. According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Lynn had 14,378 enrolled in 2014, which grew 15 percent over five years to 16,615 students this past school year.
To try to accommodate the increase, the district has added portable classrooms and opened satellite programs, which Tutwiler said has provided some relief, but large class sizes and building overcrowding continue to be a major challenge.
Of those interviewed, concern also centered around the condition of the school buildings, in terms of safety, ineffective maintenance and the ability of 21st century learning activities to be conducted in outdated facilities. On average, the district’s schools are more than 80 years old. Ten are more than 100 years old.
Four strategic objectives in the district strategic plan center around meeting the challenges identified in the entry plan findings, which also includes a focus on strengthening community partnerships, another challenge identified in the report. The next step is to develop action plans to meet those objectives, which will take place this summer, Tutwiler said.
Despite the district’s challenges, Tutwiler said there were many positive findings. He said there was unanimity that the strength of the Lynn Public Schools existed “squarely in the value, experiences, diversity and commitment of the people,” which includes committed educators.
In addition, students surveyed by DESE last year responded favorably about their experience in the district in terms of school climate, safety and engagement, the report shows.
As the fifth-largest district in the state, Lynn continues to perform among the top of large urban districts, Tutwiler said. But there remains a large achievement gap between ELLs and native English speakers, and between students with disabilities and regular education students, he said.
Tutwiler said he’s eager about the work ahead to realize the vision for the Lynn Public Schools that the district strategic plan is anchored around, which is to commit to fulfilling the intellectual, physical and social-emotional potential of all of its students, and work together so students can learn to thrive, advance and impact their community and beyond.