© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Work Begins On Holyoke School Turnaround Plan

Work begins today to develop a turnaround plan for the public schools in Holyoke, Massachusetts.  A temporary advisory group appointed by the Massachusetts education commissioner is scheduled to hold its first meeting.

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has appointed 18 people to the Holyoke Local Stakeholder Group, a temporary advisory body that will make recommendations for a district turnaround plan that will be developed in the next few months.

" We are convening a local stakeholder group," said Chester. " That local stakeholder group will provide me with input on the development of a turnaround plan."

Its members include Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, Holyoke teachers union president Gus Morales, teachers, administrators, parents, and representatives from state and local child welfare, social service, and workforce development agencies.

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-3 on April 28 to declare the Holyoke Public Schools to be a chronically underperforming district. That put the school system under state receivership.  The vote also triggered the creation of the local advisory group.

The local stakeholders group is meeting for the first time today at the Holyoke Public Library.

The locally-elected Holyoke School Committee no longer has any policy-setting authority. The school superintendent remains in charge of day-to-day operations, but answers directly to Chester, who is the interim receiver.

" No decisions regarding budgets, personnel, policies, contracts, collective bargaining can be made without clearing it with me.  The receiver under state law has all the authority of the superintendent and the school committee."

Chester is expected to name a permanent receiver in a few weeks. He said there has been a high level of interest in the position.

The turnaround plan will need to address pervasive problems in the Holyoke schools that date back more than a decade. Chester said a majority of the 5,000 students are not receiving even an adequate education.

" One in 8 students reading on grade level, the  lowest graduation rate of any district in the state, the highest drop out rate of any district, a high suspension rate of students," Chester said.

Despite the failures, Chester insists he is not looking for a turnaround plan that will result in mass teacher firings.

" I am not interested in clearing the ground and starting over completely, he said.

Holyoke is just the second school district in Massachusetts to be put under receivership.  The Lawrence schools are finishing a third full year under state control.  

Morse said he visited Lawrence to find out what might be in store for Holyoke.

" What we saw was autonomy on the school level that we don't see in Holyoke. Principals making decisions based on the needs of the students, and the idea that one size does not fit all," he said.

He said the local advisory group in Lawrence has worked closely with the state-appointed receiver.

Morse said Holyoke’s future is dependent on the success of the school turnaround plan.

" Property values are already low. Businesses and young families are not moving to Holyoke if they cite the public schools," he said.

A poll conducted by MassINC found 51 percent of people in Holyoke who have young children, or are planning to have children, said they would consider moving because of the schools.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
Related Content