In 2015, the Lawrence Public Schools received the initial findings of a study conducted by Harvard University: researchers had concluded that the Academies were a key success factor in the district’s turnaround. At that time, New Profit, a national venture philanthropy firm based in Boston, was just getting to know Superintendent Riley.  In particular, New Profit's Reimagine Learning Fund, a national effort to bring resources to the most underserved young people in the U.S, wanted to know what it might do to help advance the agenda of the Lawrence Public Schools.

Reflecting on the Harvard study, Riley said that he wanted to better understand the core ingredients that make the Academies so effective what we’ve come to call “the secret sauce.” He invited New Profit to investigate and to create a codification of the Academies –  a case study of sorts that could be shared widely, both within and beyond Lawrence. 

“In many ways…the academies are a short term solution to what we hope is developing long term practices in the district.”
— Superintendent Jeff Riley

Superintendent Riley knew that there were lessons to be learned from the Academies that would benefit the district as a whole and provide ideas and information to other districts in Massachusetts and around the country. For example, lessons about professional development and instructional practice; recruiting, hiring and retention; data based decision-making; and culture and leadership. Moreover, the Superintendent and his team were beginning to be overwhelmed by inquiries about the Academies from other schools districts; they needed a robust tool in hand that could be easily shared so that they could continue to devote their own time to teaching and learning in Lawrence.

Uncovering the Story

With that charge, we collaborated with the district to develop a process for gathering information, with the intention of creating an accessible and compelling story that would stimulate important conversations in Lawrence, in Massachusetts, and beyond. Acceleration Academies are hosted by 23 of the 33 schools in the Lawrence Public Schools.  We had the opportunity to survey administrators and teachers in all 23 schools, but we believed it was also important to get a much closer look at a smaller subset of schools and at a broader range of stakeholders. Together, the Lawrence and New Profit teams selected four schools in the district to be the focus of our investigation, representing different grade levels, demographics, and other characteristics. These schools, we believe, paint a representative portrait of the Acceleration Academies as one of several high-impact interventions employed by the district to significantly improve learning outcomes.

Our case study explores the following question:  what are the elements of the Academies –  the structures, practices, and conditions –  that drive student achievement and success?  We began our investigation beginning in the fall of 2015, looking at historical documents and descriptive data about the district.  Qualitative data collection commenced in the winter of 2016 and continued through the spring.

A simple written narrative did not seem adequate to the task of capturing the dynamic energy of the Academies, so we determined to create a multi-media case study.  Toward that end, in the winter and spring of 2016, we conducted video interviews with:

  •  30 Acceleration Academy teachers from four different LPS schools
  •  4 principals from the same schools and 2 assistant principals
  •  4 central office employees, including two extended interviews with Superintendent Riley

We also videotaped:

  • 20 classroom sessions at the four schools
  •  4 Student Focus Groups
  • 3 Parent Focus Groups

Additionally, we sent surveys to all of the teachers and administrators in the district, and to a select group of students.  In all, we collected surveys from 238 teachers, 38 administrators, and 350 students.  Finally, we were given access to Acceleration Academies classroom observations conducted by the Lawrence Public Schools central office team.

The Golden Ticket is the story that has emerged from our investigation. 

The Case Study Team

A team of New Profit and Lawrence Public Schools staff members and experienced contractors conducted this investigation and produced this final case study.

The Golden Ticket Editorial Team

  • Jane Feinberg, Senior Advisor & Regional Partnership Lead, Reimagine Learning Fund
  • Sara D’Alessandro, Former Director, Educator Initiatives, Lawrence Public Schools
  • Shalimar Quiles, Assistant Principal, Lawrence Public Schools
  • Molly O’Donnell, Manager, Reimagine Learning Fund
  • Beth Peabody, Consulting Writer, Researcher, and Policy Analyst
  • Thomas Zorich, Manager, Special Projects, Lawrence Public Schools
  • Leldamy Correa, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Lawrence Public Schools
  • Sarah Groh, Manager, America Forward
  • Katie Pakenham, Former Director of Network Engagement, New Profit
  • Kim Jackson, Senior Associate, Reimagine Learning Fund
  • Lynne Deborah Sacks, Academic Advisor, Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Miki Katoni, Student Intern, Reimagine Learning Fund
  • Carole Bersani, Consulting Project Coordinator
  • Julie Guinto, Executive Assistant, New Profit

The Golden Ticket Production Team

  • Julie Mallozzi, Web Designer and Content Advisor, Julie Mallozzi Productions

  • David Pekarski, Manager, Lawrence Public Schools Media

  • Suzanne Carey-Fernandez, Photographer, Lawrence Public Schools

  • Tom Robertson, Cameraman, Blue River Films
  • Ryan Barrett, Sound Engineer
  • Gilles Moran, Sound Engineer
  • Patrick Gaspar, Video Editor
  • Samuel Ewing, Assistant Web and Graphics Designer
  • Holly Valero, Graphic Designer, HollyWorks

New Profit/Reimagine Learning Executive Team

  • Shruti Sehra, Managing Partner, New Profit
  • Jody Cornish, Managing Partner, New Profit

In addition, we are immensely grateful to the principals, assistant principals, teachers, students, parents, central office administrators, and others who graciously let us into their schools and classrooms, and accommodated our needs at every turn. This project was possible because of their generous granting of access, and their enduring competence and good cheer.

This project was made possible by the magnanimous support of The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation.

The Reimagine Learning Fund

The Reimagine Learning Fund supports communities and schools to create teaching and learning environments that unleash creativity and potential in all students, enabling them to realize academic and life success. Across the nation, there is a rising tide of momentum to reimagine teaching and learning to creating personalized pathways for students. We are committed to ensuring that those students with more complex needs and challenges and few support resources to meet their needs stand to benefit equally from the revolution in teaching and learning that is underway.

Despite making progress on education reform, U.S. schools are systemically failing to serve more than 30% of students, including:

  • The 20% of students with brain-based learning and attention issues
  • Students struggling with social-emotional and behavioral issues
  • Racial/ethnic minority students
  • English Language Learners
  • Low-income students

As the U.S. becomes a majority-minority country, and as we pass the threshold of having more than 50% of students growing up in poverty, we can no longer ignore the challenges that these learners face. We must ensure that our schools are redesigned to meet the needs of 21st century learners and to support the success of all learners, including those with more complex needs and challenges.

Reimagine Learning was set up as an evergreen fund that will evolve its strategy every five years. Phase 1 of the Fund (2012-2017) leveraged $35 million from five funding partners – the Peter & Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, Poses Family Foundation, Oak Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and New Profit – to build the foundation of an aligned action network. Through our work, the Reimagine Learning Fund aims to drive field-wide shifts in teaching and learning practice, influence federal and state education policy to support innovation and change, and build public awareness and engagement to create the urgency for change required to reach a tipping point across the 14,000 school districts in the US.

New Profit

New Profit is a national nonprofit venture philanthropy fund. Our mission is to break down the barriers that stand between people and opportunity in America. We work with visionary entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and other partners to upend the status quo and transform the way America educates its children, propels people towards social and financial stability, and creates healthy communities.