Public Schools (Lawrence, MA)


Arlington School

The Library owns 2 collections of materials from the Lawrence Public Schools.  One is processed and includes school committee reports from the beginning through the 1970s as well as other series like the Lawrence High School Bulletin.  The 2nd collection was removed from the Oliver School in 2007 and is still unprocessed.  It includes individual school records and early 20th century proof of age.  The Rollins School, the Bruce School, and the high school have collections in the library and there are a number of photographs.

In 1845 the Essex Company had just begun the physical creation of the City of Lawrence.  At that time there were already three one-story district schoolhouses existing within the area that would encompass the city.  Two of them were in Methuen; the other was in Andover.  One was located on Prospect Hill, at the intersection of what is now Prospect and East Haverhill streets, and on Broadway in South Lawrence.  The following year, 1846, the Essex Company erected a schoolhouse between Haverhill and Tremont streets under the auspices of the Methuen School Department.  The first day of class was November 7 of that year and Nathaniel Ambrose was the teacher.  He started with 25 pupils, but by the end of the first year there were 150 students.

Lawrence was incorporated as a town the following year and formed its own school committee of James D. Herrick, Dan Weed, and Dr. William D. Lamb.  One male and 5 female faculty members were employed.  Mr. Ambrose stayed on as the teacher at the Essex Company house.  Miss Robinson was hired to work at the Durant district.  Miss Ford went to the Tower Hill district.  Miss Brown and Miss Abbott worked at the Free Will Baptist Vestry and Miss Odell taught on the south side of the river.  A new building was constructed on Jackson Street and Lowell Road in South Lawrence.

The original school committee began early in 1848 to plan for the future.  They consulted with Horace Mann and other educators to direct the goals of the new and unformed public education in the town of Lawrence.  The plan called for continuous system of public instruction that would carry a student from the primary grades through the various levels into secondary education.  The ultimate goal would be successful completion leading directly to higher education or gainful employment.

The first grammar school on the north side of the river was opened in April of 1848 in the Jackson Street house.  By the end of the year the school had moved into new quarters and would be named the Oliver School.  During the same period another grammar school was started at the Southside building.  Lawrence High School was organized January 31, 1849.  The first seventeen students were housed in the first floor of the Oliver School.

As Lawrence progressed from town to city status, the school committee was now an elected body of seven, the mayor and one representative from each ward.  The year was 1853 and the city possessed ten schools including the Oliver, the Oliver High School, Oak St., Amesbury St., Newbury St., Cross St., and Prospect St. The original High School building was constructed in 1867.  It would later be replaced by the present structure on the corner of Lawrence and Haverhill streets in 1901.

The John R. Rollins School was completed 1893 on the corner of Howard Street and Prospect Streets.  It contained ten classrooms, a large hall, rooms for teachers and master, and a library.  1895 was the year the John K. Tarbox was built on Alder Street.  Two years later the Emily G. Wetherbee School was built on Newton Street.  The Alexander D. Bruce School followed in 1902 on Ames Street; the Gilbert E. Hood in 1905 on Park Street, and the John Breen school in 1911.

The New Oliver School replaced the Oliver School, Oak Street, and old High School buildings in 1915.  The Practice School that had trained so many young teachers was discontinued in 1921.

In December of 1945 WLAW radio station started a program entitled “Your school and home.”  The intent of the program was to strengthen parents’ interest in the activities of their children’s schools.  Administrators, teachers, and students participated.  In the fall of 1946 a pre primary program was started at the Bruce School.  It was expanded to a number of other schools during the following years and the name was changed to “Kindergarten.”  The Lawrence Continuation School, which was founded in 1920 to allow children 14 and older to work in the mills and still attend school, was discontinued in 1950.  The Bruce school was totally destroyed by fire on March 20, 1951.  When the New Bruce school replaced it in 1954, four more schools were closed: Riverside, Lowell, Amesbury, and Donovan.  That same year the City of Lawrence asked the Harvard Center for Field Studies to create a plan for the future demographics of the Lawrence school system.

Many of the mills closed in the early fifties. This resulted in economic hardship for the city and the schools.  Special Education was instituted in 1955.  It was called Special Classes at that time and funded with the help of state reimbursements. Cerebral Palsied children would be added to this program in 1959.  Two more schools, Prospect and Kehoe, were closed in 1956.  The first annual spelling bee for grammar students started in the spring of 1957.  In 1957 Lawrence High football team became the Class A champions and attended the Orange Bowl.  They succeeded again in 1958 and 1961.  1958 saw the founding of the Greater Lawrence Guidance Center.  Ability grouping was also initiated that year.  The National Defense Act allowed the school to apply for federal funding.

Science Fair was introduced to the Lawrence Public Schools in 1960, although at that time it was not required.  In 1961 the Kane and Frost Schools were opened.  Robert Frost attended the dedication of the school that was honored with his name, in January of 1962.  Washington, Packard, and Hood schools closed in 1961.  That same year the first summer school was initiated for remedial upper elementary students.  Ability grouping was extended to the high school.  A scholastic honor society was introduced to the high school.  Academic achievers from the junior and senior classes would be recognized and honored with gold “L” pins, their class year was attached to the pin.  The first pins were presented to 21 seniors in 1963.  In 1963 a keypuncher was leased for the high school from IBM.  The school system complied with the Supreme Court Ruling on Sept. 9, 1963 by discontinuing the recitation of morning prayers, replacing them with silent meditation.  Operation Headstart, a federally funded program to help prepare disadvantaged youngsters for school, was first operated in Lawrence in 1965 with 200 preschoolers.  That same year Phillips Academy initiated the Andover Summer Study Plan for under achieving high school boys.  This program allowed students to live on the campus in Andover.

The Greater Lawrence Technical School was started in 1964 through an act of the state legislature as an alternative to traditional high school for 300 boys from Lawrence, Methuen, Andover, and North Andover.  The school expanded to include girls.  After one year it had an enrollment of 2000 students.  87% were from Lawrence.

1966 was the first year of collective bargaining between the City of Lawrence and schoolteachers and custodians.  Adult Basic Education classes were added that same year for individuals 18 years or older.  1969 saw the addition of a charm course from the Business Department to teach good grooming to young women to prepare them for the business world.  Report cards and administration information were computerized.  The State Department of Education in 1970 completed a school survey.  The survey studied the facilities, ancillary services, and the academic program.  At this time the plan was detailed in a publication called Lawrence – A View to the 70s.  This publication outlined the needs of the department including updating the curriculum, modernizing technology, the cooperation of both professional staff and community, and new facilities.  A system of Junior High schools was introduced to add curriculum (i.e. languages and algebra).

By 1972 the school department was worried about the warnings that the high school would not be accredited in the near future.  The school department stated a number of actions that it should take including a formal comprehensive athletic policy, a preschool for autistic children, extended days for high school students, summer programs for the mentally retarded, exceptional children, and children with learning disabilities, and establishment of a hot lunch program for elementary and junior high schools.  Lawrence joined with the Andovers and Methuen to regionalism certain expenses in 1973.   Among the areas of cooperation were transportation of special needs students, in-service programs for staff, purchasing of school supplies and equipment, and using the vocational school computers for various uses in the school.  An Adult Basic Education Center was started that year.  This center included programs that helped adults acquire grammar school diplomas, work to toward a GED, and get help with English as a second language or basic skills efficiency.  This new center was aligned with the Welfare Office, the Division of Employment Security, the courts, NAB/JOB, WIN, Work Experience and CETA programs, the Community Action Council, the School systems of the community, institutions of higher learning nearby, the Chamber of Commerce, and business and industry.  Another program called the Adult Civic Education offered a course in civics and naturalization, and English on three levels.  Title 1 project Red 11 helped economically and educationally disadvantaged youth to meet their educational needs with remedial reading, language development ESL, and early childhood education.  Bilingual education started in 1970.  In1974 the Lawrence Public Schools were teaching basic subjects in Spanish, French, and Portuguese.  1975 saw the Adult Action Center projected out to the Lawrence jail and the Merrimack Courts housing project.  Title 1 Project REAL HOPES included these programs ECE, ESL, Language Development, Listening and expressing,  Mother-child home 2, Poet in residence, Project Amistad, remedial reading, and teacher’s aides. Bilingual education adapted to make students transitional into all English classes.  Regular annual reports ceased to be compiled and published in 1978.  One more publication came out in 1989-90.  1990 and 1991 produced a brochure called A Report Card for Lawrence Public Schools and in 1995 the schools published a similar booklet called Progress Report Dreams coming true.

Semester School Pilot Program was initiated in 1989 to help students at risk of being retained or dropping out of school.  Student so identified at the close of the second marking period, received services to improve their basic skill deficiencies for the remainder of the school year.  The Community Day Charter School was opened September of 1995.  The Family Development Charter School was started earlier.  The schools were funded entirely with state funds with the intent to test innovative curriculum authorized by the Education Reform Act of 1993.

As the 20th century reaches its final decades, the Lawrence Public Schools reflect in its enrollment the diversity of the city it represents.  Lawrence has the highest percentage of students whose first language is other than English – more than 74 percent. Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) is a program used by a third of the students.  The most common of the languages: Spanish, Khmer, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Arabic.

At present (2005) Lawrence High School is struggling.  In 1996 the high school lost its accreditation.  Programs like the Alternative School for Special Needs Students and the Collaborative Program for at-risk students have been added to the curriculum.  Lawrence Academy, started in 1990, is an after school credit grading program for students who cannot regularly attend classes.  The Evening High School began in 1998 and functions much as the Lawrence Academy does.  In 1995 19% of the students were named to the honor roll.  44% of the graduating class of 1995 went on to 4-year colleges and 37% went on to 2-year schools.   The high school regained accreditation in 2004.  The new school building located in South Lawrence was occupied at the beginning of the school year in September of 2007.

8 Responses

  1. Do you have to use a card to put the order?

  2. as far i know, prospect st & east haverhill st was always on Prospect hill, how can one of the first school in Lawrence be located there when you say the first school was on Towerhill?????

  3. Why is there no mention of the Essex school? I have tried to find pictures. I attended fron 1957 to 1960. I know it burned down

  4. A lot of very helpful information here. I’d be interested in seeing something about desegregation, which was implemented in the early 1980s. There is also no mention of the Hennessey School (next to the Hancock Projects) that I can see.

  5. The Rollins School is at the corner of Howard and Platt St. not Howard and Prospect St

  6. There is no mention of the
    Prospect St. School at the corner of Prospect and East Haverhill St.

  7. Thanks for the excellent manual

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