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New Leader Selected For Holyoke Schools


A veteran educator with a track record of turning around struggling urban schools will be put in charge of a troubled western Massachusetts school system. The state’s education commissioner has appointed the current superintendent of schools in Wakefield as receiver for the Holyoke public schools.

Stephen Zrike, who was a principal at three Boston schools and led a network of elementary schools in Chicago, will now be in charge of the effort to improve student achievement at one of the worst school districts in the state.

" There is no question it is a challenge and it is not going to be easy work," Zrike said. " I would not be here if I didn't think it could be done."

The state board of education voted in April to take control of the Holyoke schools after more than a decade of low student test scores and high dropout rates.  Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester is the interim receiver. Zrike’s appointment is effective July 6th.

  Zrike said he arrives with no blueprint for the future of the Holyoke schools.  He will work with Chester this summer to develop a turnaround plan after receiving recommendations from a committee of appointed local stakeholders.

" I think Holyoke has a chance to be a real success story," Zrike said.

Much of Zrike’s 17-year career in education has been spent in urban schools. At the Blackstone elementary school in Boston, where he was principal in 2010, he facilitated a team of teachers, students and parents who developed a turnaround plan that averted a state takeover.

Zrike, who has a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, supervised 26 elementary schools in Chicago from 2011-2013.  He became the Wakefield school superintendent in 2013.

As receiver for the Holyoke schools, Zrike has the combined authority of a superintendent and school committee.

" This is the kind of opportunity I wanted for my career. I have no aspirations to do anything beyond this. It is an opportunity to be part of something very significant in my home state," he said.

Chester said there was a lot of interest in the Holyoke assignment. He said he narrowed a large field to four candidates before selecting Zrike.

" As a bilingual candidate and with the success he had in Boston and Chicago where he was asked to work with some very challenged schools, he just distinguished himself as having the kind of background and success we need here in Holyoke," said Chester.

Initial reaction to Zrike’s appointment was positive from people who attended Monday’s announcement at Holyoke High School.  Mayor Alex Morse said Zrike appears to be a good choice.

" I have no doubt he has the ability and skills to work with the administrators, teachers, and families to really move the needle," said Morse.

Zrike will be a state employee who reports directly to Chester.  His $187,000 annual salary will be paid out of the Holyoke school budget.

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.
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