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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Holyoke Public Schools

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
January 15, 2016


This memo updates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on our work with the Holyoke Public Schools (HPS), including follow-up on the TIP-Peck program and an overview of the district's progress in implementing the key actions and achieving the benchmarks outlined in the HPS Level 5 District Turnaround Plan.

The Therapeutic Intervention Program at Peck School

As discussed during the December 2015 Board meeting, Dr. Zrike and staff from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are conducting an investigation of the Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP) at the Peck School following the release of the Disability Law Center report raising concerns about the program. The investigation will conclude the last week of January. We anticipate that the internal investigation will lead to several actions, including the development of additional training for staff, revised policies and procedures, revised communication protocols, and stronger collaboration between staff and families, among other actions. I will keep the Board informed.

During the past month, several state agencies have provided support to the district as it works to strengthen the Therapeutic Intervention Program. Maria Mossaides, Child Advocate for the Commonwealth, and Janice LeBel, Director of Program Management at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH), visited the Peck School on December 14 to observe the TIP and provide recommendations about ways to strengthen it. Ms. Mossaides also attended a meeting held on December 16 with parents of students who attend the TIP at Peck and district and school staff. At the request of Dr. Zrike, Dr. LeBel is returning to the district on January 20 with DMH Director of Nursing - Licensing Division, Sheila Lee, to conduct an environmental audit of several schools in the district.

As we reported to the Board at the December meeting, the Director of Special Education for the district has been on administrative leave since December 14. Jennifer Baribeau, Assistant Director of Special Education, is serving as the Acting Director of Special Education for the district. HPS also recently hired Debra Schneeweis as a temporary consultant to Ms. Baribeau and the district's special education department. Ms. Schneeweis brings over 35 years of experience to the district, including 20 years as a special education teacher and 9 years as the Director of Special Education for Chicopee Public Schools.

District Turnaround Plan Implementation Updates

Priority Area 1: Provide High-Quality Instruction and Student-Specific Supports for All Students Including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.

In order to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to address the needs of students with disabilities throughout the district, Holyoke Public Schools (HPS) has contracted with the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), to conduct a review of the district's special education program, identifying best practices, inconsistencies, and gaps in services for students with disabilities. EDC staff has been working in Holyoke for the past month conducting interviews with central office administrators, principals, teachers, and parents, as well as examining various documents, policies, and data. EDC is scheduled to provide the district with their findings and recommendations by the end of January.

As I stated in my update memo in December, school-based teams are working on operational plans that outline the essential actions each school will take during the 2016-2017 school year to provide high-quality core instruction and tiered supports to HPS students. The plans will describe how each school will implement critical elements of the turnaround process in Holyoke such as extended time for learning and professional development.

The process for developing school operational plans is well underway. School-based teams attended a second district-wide learning session on January 7. The learning session was planned and delivered jointly by HPS staff and the National Center for Time and Learning and provided each school team with guidance and support in developing their plans. Planning teams also visited two middle schools in the Springfield Empowerment Zone to learn from their experiences developing school operational plans last spring and will be visiting extended day elementary schools in Lawrence this month and Worcester next month. Each school team has already submitted a plan for how they will engage various stakeholders, including families, in the process of developing their school operational plan. The first draft of each school's operational plan is due at the end of February.

Priority Area 2: Establish Focused Practices for Improving Instruction

HPS is designing a district-wide early education and elementary program that builds a solid foundation for students' pre-kindergarten to grade 12 educational experiences. Part of this work includes ensuring that all pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs provide consistent, developmentally appropriate expectations, environments, curriculum, and instructional practices.

As part of the turnaround plan, the district formed the Kindergarten Curriculum Research Team (KCRT) to provide a recommendation about curricula to be used in early childhood classrooms. The team, comprised of HPS teachers and staff, conducted visits to early childhood programs and completed research focused on examining early childhood curricula. The KCRT held an information session with school leaders on January 8 to share and receive feedback on their research process, findings, and recommendations. The group will present its final set of recommendations to Dr. Zrike later this month.

HPS is working to create strong college and career pathways to close skills gaps and opportunity gaps for its students. The Secondary Redesign Work Group has been working during the past two months and will issue its set of recommendations to Dr. Zrike during the last week of January. Additionally, district leaders have begun holding initial meetings with local higher education institutions about establishing and expanding early college programming within the district. More specific proposals will be incorporated into the recommendations issued by the Secondary Redesign Work Group.

Priority Area 3: Create a Climate and Culture that Support Students and Engage Families.

In order to transform the district's culture into one of high standards and positive regard for all students and staff, HPS staff will use formative and summative data to assess school climate, student supports, and other factors affecting the conditions for learning in the schools and make improvements as needed. Student and staff formative surveys were administered in December 2015 across the district, with completion rates of 63% and 70% respectively. Family surveys are due by January 15, with a goal of 70% completion. Principals are scheduled to receive training from Panorama Education, who administered the surveys, on how to analyze and use their survey results to set goals and drive improvements. Full survey results will be available on the HPS website during the third week of January.

Priority Area 4: Develop Leadership, Shared Responsibility and Professional Collaboration.

HPS has committed to ensuring that Holyoke's educators and other staff have the knowledge and skills needed to drive student learning, growth, and achievement. On January 6, HPS hosted a full day of professional development programming for staff. Most of the programming was building-based and covered topics related to curriculum development and instructional techniques. All staff in the district also participated in two common workshops. The first was a training entitled "Prevention of Physical Restraint and Requirements If Used," which covers the new regulations on restraints that the Board adopted in 2015 and that took effect on January 1, 2016. The second was a workshop delivered by school counselors covering the process for educators to complete mandated reporter forms relating to reporting suspected child abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families (so-called 51A forms).

An explicit strategy to improve teaching and learning in the district is to further develop the capacity of school-based Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs). All ILTs attended a training session in late December to help them refine their school's instructional foci. The ILTs worked on articulating instructional goals for their schools, identifying key teacher actions needed to achieve the goals, and determining the specific data points that will help the school know if it has met its goals. The district has another district-wide professional development session scheduled for the afternoon of February 1.

Priority Area 5: Organize the District for Successful Turnaround

Holyoke Public Schools is committed to designing a central office that is structured to provide optimal support and assistance to each school. This includes ensuring that the district's resources are invested in strategies that will lead to improved student achievement and that district systems are structured to create efficiencies and streamline support to schools. The district is currently undergoing a review of its central office structure and functions, with a goal of developing recommendations about how to structure the central office to best support school improvement. The review is being led by Karla Brooks Baehr and Joan Connolly. Recommendations are expected by February 12, 2016.

As part of the central office review, HPS is conducting an audit and analysis of its data management systems and technology infrastructure. The analysis is being led by John Manzi and John Grafton from the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials (MASBO). A goal of the audit is to determine what new technology may be needed to gain efficiencies in existing district systems, such as human resources, payroll, and office systems. The audit also includes an examination of how existing systems can be integrated to improve productivity and data-sharing across the district.

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and Ventura Rodriguez, special assistant to the Commissioner and my liaison to Holyoke, will be at the Board meeting on January 26 to answer your questions.

Last Updated: January 21, 2016
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