Congratulations to the city of Lawrence’s public schools and to their community partners. They were one of the winners at the Third Annual Gateway City Innovation Awards which is sponsored by the nonprofit thank tank MassINC.

Held in Worcester last month, the award ceremony acknowledged Gateway Cities for their innovative, collaborative approaches to long-standing community problems.

The win is particularly sweet for Lawrence because its schools have struggled. In 2011, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that the city’s schools fell into the Level 5 category, the state’s lowest one, because of chronic underperformance.

The district was put into receivership and Jeff Riley, a Boston educator, was brought in as the new superintendent and charged with implementing a turnaround plan.

Now, four years later: “Public education in Lawrence is steadily improving in ways that we can measure,” MassINC explains, pointing to the power of school-community partnerships in a recent report.

“Among his key reforms, Superintendent Riley extended the school day, partnering with a number of high capacity nonprofits to provide fun and challenging activities,” the report notes. “While many leaders dropped into a failing school system would look inward, focusing on academics to drive up test scores, Superintendent Riley knew the power of strong partners, appreciated that schools need to educate the whole child, and had faith that investing in community partnerships would pay off over time.”

As we’ve blogged many times, these partnerships are crucial for helping children succeed from birth through the third grade and on to college and careers.

The report adds:

“Gateway Cities looking at strategies for developing collaborative leadership often get stuck by a narrow definition of leadership. They see the same table of dedicated civic leaders who rise to every challenge and wonder how they can ever be more effective without more hands on deck. By placing the power of leadership in the hands of teachers and parents struggling to make their community a better place, the Lawrence Community Partnerships model provides a compelling answer to this quandary.”

We also want to give a shout out to the Holyoke Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, which serves young men who “are [a] ‘proven-risk’ because they have committed crimes using a gun or a knife, they have been victimized by violent crime and are likely to retaliate, or they are known to police as associated with a violent gang.”

To help tell Lawrence’s story, MassINC has produced a video called, “Leading Together: The Lawrence Community Partnerships Case Study.”

“Fundamentally in Lawrence, we believe in this idea of mirroring the suburban experience,” Riley explains in the video’s opening scene, “and we do that through high-quality academics; high-quality enrichment; the idea that hard work matters; teaching kids to be self advocates for their own learning; and then the last one is this idea of critical thinking, having kids, by the time they leave us, be able to encounter a novel situation [and] use their knowledge base to figure out how to deal with that situation.”

“It may not always show up on the test, but… it shows up in life.”

Click here to learn more about how Gateway Cities are telling their own stories of hard work and hard won success.