Two Unlike Districts Like 'Collaborative School' Goal

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Two neighboring school districts in Massachusetts--one urban and the other suburban--are working together on a plan that would meld students from their racially and economically different jurisdictions into one jointly run school.

Under the plan, which has taken shape over the last two years, the Lawrence and Andover school systems would build, staff, and run a 1,200-student elementary school that would be attended on a voluntary basis by students from both communities.

Local and state school officials said last week that the creation of such a school by an urban and suburban district to foster racial, social, and economic integration would be unprecedented in the state. Nationwide, few, if any, such collaborations have taken place voluntarily, they said.

Currently, local officials are drafting legislation that will enable the districts to legally forge an agreement and pay for the plan, which has been hammered into rough form by nine committees and task forces over the past year.

Whether the plan will move from the drawing board to reality now depends to a large degree on the state legislature.

Normally, the state picks up 90 percent of the costs of new urban schools being built to promote integration; it does not pay for the purchase of the school site.

But because of the unique nature of the collaboration--and because the proposed school would offer a number of innovative programs for students, teachers, and the communities in general--local school officials say they are "counting" on the legislature to vote to pick up the entire cost of both the site and construction.

That tab could run as high as $40- million, according to the project's task force on finance.

The experimental nature of the project, said Dennis A. Richards, its director, would make it hard for school officials to convince local citizens that they should "pull funds out of their own pockets" to pay for such a school.

"We need something close to 100 percent funding," said Mr. Richards, adding that key lawmakers in the state have assured him that the funding request is "realistic."

"They feel that it is such an important project that it makes sense for the state to try to encourage it to happen so it can become a model," he said.

Already, the state department of education has awarded planning grants to the districts totaling nearly $240,000.

Michael J. Alves, project director for desegregation assistance at the state department of education, called the collaboration by Lawrence and Andover a "pioneering effort."

"We believe the concept is very sound," Mr. Alves said. "If they are able to complete the project, it could become a strong model for voluntary school desegregation."

He noted, however, that he could not remember the legislature ever agreeing to pick up the total cost of both a school site and construction. Such a move, he said, "would be extraordinary."

Two Different Communities

Andover and Lawrence are two very different communities.

Although Andover has the smaller population with 27,000 people, it sprawls over 32 square miles. Lawrence, with a population of 65,000, is confined to 7 square miles.

Lawrence is an industrial center, with a large minority, predominantly Hispanic, population and pockets of poverty. In the summer of 1984, the city was the scene of three days of racial unrest that left community leaders shaken and apprehensive about the possibility that the unpredicted flare-up of tensions would recur.

The city's tranquil suburban neighbor, on the other hand, is predominantly white and very affluent.

The "collaborative school project" grew out of discussions that began in 1985 between Kenneth R. Seifert, superintendent of the Andover public schools, and Eugene Thayer, Lawrence's former superintendent.

Both were facing growing elementary-school enrollments, dwindling resources, and higher community expectations. Both were also concerned that students were not being adequately prepared for the demands and challenges they would face growing up in the 21st century.

They decided to propose the creation of a jointly run, K-8 elementary school with a number of innovative "satellite programs" they hoped would benefit all schools in both communities. James F. Scully, Lawrence's new school superintendent, has embraced the idea.

"I don't believe the monopoly for success lies in any one area," Mr. Seifert said last week. "We need to mix and understand what the other is like and get the best from all of us."

"If two communities that sit alongside one another cannot work together and raise and educate children together," he said, "then I wonder what the prospects are for our whole country doing it."

A Multi-Purpose Facility

Local officials say they envision the school as a multi-purpose facili8ty where classroom teachers and faculty members from nearby colleges and universities can work together on curriculum development and substantive research.

In this way, they say, the school would provide a learning environment for teachers as well as students. Most teachers would volunteer to teach at the school for three-year stints and then return to their district. A number of "master" teachers, however, might stay longer to provide continuity.

Rotating teachers through the school in this manner could work to improve both school systems, according to Mr. Richards. "The ultimate goal," he said, "is that the curriculum and the training provided at the school will have a positive impact on all the schools in both communities."

As envisioned, the school would also house a training center for new teachers, a special-projects center for high-school students from both districts, and an immigrant-assimilation program.

The presidents of the two local teachers' unions--one an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, the other an affiliate of the National Education Association--said last week that they support the concept of the collaborative school, and have been involved in its planning. Both said they foresee some "problems" but do not intend to stand in the way of implementation.

Nearly 200 people from the two communities volunteered to work on the task forces and committees formed to make proposals and examine various aspects of the school plan. But four public meetings held recently to discuss the proposed school were not well attended, according to Mr. Richards.

"So far, the public seems cautiously supportive when not enthusiastic or apathetic about the potential of the school," Mr. Richards said. "Although there have been some people who have expressed skepticism about the urban-suburban mingling of students, we have not experienced any major opposition."

Vol. 07, Issue 10

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