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Back To School In Springfield Where Turnaround Efforts Are Progressing


    Labor Day is a week away, but school is back in session in many places including the second-largest public school district in Massachusetts.

    The familiar nervous excitement of the first day of school was in the air Monday morning as 26,000 students returned to 58 school buildings to begin a new academic year in Springfield.

    Adamaris Guzman said she couldn’t wait to get back to Putnam Vocational Technical High School to begin her senior year.

     " It is exciting. It is the first day of my last year. It is exciting," she exclaimed!

    George Johnson, who is beginning his third year as principal at Putnam, said enrollment this year is a record 1,510.  He said Putnam has become popular because word has spread about the school’s success in graduating students who are “college or career ready.”

   "We've made a lot of improvements here at Putnam and we continue to move forward," he said.

    Putnam is typical of the improvements seen throughout the Springfield Public Schools. In the last four years, the dropout rate has been cut in half. There has been a 10 percent increase in the graduation rate, which is now at 70 percent. Schools last year had a 94 percent attendance rate.

    Student test scores have improved at a better rate than the state as a whole. Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick said results from the most recent standardized tests given to students last spring look promising, despite changing to an exam based on the Common Core education standards.

    " The results are embargoed so I can not go into any specifics, but I was delighted to see the results," said Warwick.

     Four years ago, Springfield had a half-dozen elementary schools that ranked in the lowest level of the evaluation system used to measure school performance by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  Those schools now are at or near the top of the rankings.

    Turnaround efforts now focus on Springfield’s middle schools, which are beginning the second full year of the Empowerment Zone Partnership initiative. It is a collaboration of the local school administration, the state education department and a private education consulting company.  Each of the middle schools was split into smaller schools with enrollments capped at 500.  Principals are given autonomy to experiment with curriculum and take steps such as lengthening the school day.

     One of the schools, Kennedy Middle, is being run this year by the UP Network, a Boston-based nonprofit school management organization.

    " UP has produced the best improvements in the Commonwealth in Boston and in Lawrence. We are very excited they came to western Mass. and opened their first school in Springfield. We know they are going to do great things for our kids. Their track record is unrivaled in the Commonwealth," said Warwick.

     Students heading back to class in Springfield received a new basic school supply – a laptop computer.  Each student in grades 3-12 is assigned a laptop. It is a first for an urban school system in Massachusetts.

     " In an urban center like Springfield this is a social justice issue. A lot of our students don't have computers at home and they need this technology to compete in the 21st Century," said Warwick.

     The school department leased 20,000 laptops for four years at a cost of $20 million. Also, upgrades were made to increase the wi-fi internet capacity in the school buildings.

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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