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Leader Change, Policies Evolve

Susan Moore Johnson

  • Format: PDF
  • Case Code: KC41LEAD
  • 30 pages


  • Format: Permission to reprint
  • Case Code: KC41LEAD
  • 15 pages



In 2011, Massachusetts placed the Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) in state receivership and named Jeffrey Riley as superintendent/receiver. Under his leadership, LPS made significant gains. In 2018, Riley resigned to become the state’s Commissioner of Education. Cynthia Paris, a Puerto Rican immigrant and experienced U.S. school administrator, replaced him. As superintendent, she reported to the Lawrence Alliance for Education (LAE) Board, which reported to Riley at the state level.  

This case explores the second stage of receivership in Lawrence. It focuses on issues of leadership succession; the balance of central office authority and school-based autonomy; labor-management relations; and high school reorganization.

On entry, Paris conducted a 100-day Listening and Learning Tour, where she identified strengths as well as areas of ongoing concern. These included: recruitment and retention of teachers; systems to support at-risk students; the high school redesign plan; and ensuring equitable distribution of resources.

The case addresses each of these areas of concern, exploring how Paris diagnosed and responded to the problems. It considers Expanded Learning Time, Teacher Leadership Teams, Reorganizing Special Education, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, and Restorative Justice. Paris’s decisions and initiatives revealed new complications and unexpected challenges for both the district office and the schools. 

Central to the case is the issue of Earned Autonomy for schools—a fundamental strategy for renewal under Riley. Paris found that neither the principals nor the public knew what earned autonomy meant or required. The LAE Board and Paris embarked on a process of implementing new assessments that would be used to assess a school’s readiness for autonomy. Ultimately, Commissioner Riley would review the plan.  

Meanwhile, educators and citizens wondered what it would take for the district to be released from receivership and for the elected school board to regain control of the schools. 

Subjects: Receivership; Leadership succession, Teacher leadership, Inclusive education
Setting: Lawrence Public Schools (LPS)

Also available: Investing in Teachers: The Lawrence Public Schools Respond to State Receivership

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