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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Holyoke Public Schools

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
May 13, 2016

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This memorandum updates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on our work with the Holyoke Public Schools (HPS), including the district's progress in implementing the key actions and achieving the benchmarks outlined in the HPS Level 5 District Turnaround Plan.

District Turnaround Plan Update

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

Central to the district's turnaround is the need to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to address the needs of English language learners (ELL) throughout the district. The district partnered with the Learning Innovations Program at WestEd to complete a comprehensive review of ELL services in the district. The review, which commenced in late January and continued throughout February, included a review of existing programs and services and focus groups with numerous stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, students, and parents. The WestEd review group submitted its recommendations to the district earlier this month. In summary, the WestEd ELL Program Review Team recommends the district adopt four overarching guiding principles to create a system that will lead to success for students who are current or former English language learners. The four guiding principles are:

  • Principle 1 -Achieving Systemic Coherence & Capacity: HPS educational policies, professional development, collaborative and instructional practices are research-based and promote equity, and EL/former EL student success.
  • Principle 2 -Developing Robust EL Curricula: HPS thematic curriculum units, supplemental and core materials, and assessments for ELs are aligned to MA Frameworks and WIDA Standards.
  • Principle 3-Creating & Sustaining Reciprocal Parent Partnerships: HPS creates venues so that parents/guardians are active participants in the education of ELs and former ELs by promoting, sharing, and honoring the cultural and linguistic capital of the home.
  • Principle 4 -Building Community Coalitions: HPS builds and maintains productive alliances with community and educational agencies.

District leaders presented the findings earlier this month to the Holyoke community and are working to develop an action plan based on these principles.

Priority Area 2: Establish Focused Practices for Improving Instruction.

As we noted at last month's meeting, the Holyoke Freshman Academy at Holyoke High School (HHS) is a key component of the district's secondary redesign strategy. The Freshman Academy is an opportunity to personalize the pathway for each student. The Academy will consist of 3 teams of 4 content teachers, with 40 students in each team. During the 9th grade experience, students will participate in team-based activities, develop leadership skills, expand on their strengths, and discover new interests.

Two signature components of the Freshman Academy experience will be: 1) Explorations, a series of six 3-week courses at HHS and Dean Technical High School, where students will participate in hands-on projects while learning about careers, and 2) Youth Participatory Action Research project, where students will identify a social issue in their community, conduct research to understand the root causes of the issue, develop a plan to address the problem, and put their plan into action. Possible selections for the Explorations course include: Introduction to Carpentry, Introduction to Cosmetology, Introduction to Culinary Arts, Introduction to Electrical, Introduction to Health Services, and Introduction to Precision Manufacturing.

A Freshman Academy Work Team consisting of seven teacher leaders began meeting on April 26 at Holyoke High School and will work through May to design and advise on ways to support the new structure. It is anticipated that core Freshman Academy teachers will be identified by the end of May and invited into the curriculum and team planning activities at that time. High school counselors hosted informational meetings about the Freshman Academy, and high school in general, at nine middle schools, including a parochial school and a charter school, before spring break. HPS has also hosted several Freshman Academy workshops to solicit input in the design of the Academy, as well as answer questions from students, families, and staff. Based on additional input, the district has developed a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and responses, which are available on the HPS website. Additionally, on March 11, Holyoke High School hosted an open house for all incoming freshmen, where students and families learned about the freshman academy experience, toured the school, and met current student leaders of clubs and athletic teams.

A review of the existing shops at Dean is underway to assess student interest, labor market demand, community support, and required capital investment. Based on this review, a recommendation regarding which shops the school should continue to offer will be made later this month.

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

One of the priorities in the district's turnaround plan is to build relationships with families, repair trust in the school district, and encourage and support families to be active partners in students' learning. The district created the Family, Student and Community Engagement Department in February 2016 after the hiring of its Director, Ileana Cintrón. This newly created unit took on functions that previously belonged to the Student Services Department, while also assuming broader functions related to family engagement at HPS. The department developed a vision statement and established short-term and long-term goals to guide the district's efforts with family and community engagement. The vision statement is:

HPS has highly effective relationships with a significant number of actively engaged families and community partners, who are empowered and committed to lifelong learning, and who trust in and contribute to their children's classrooms and HPS as the best educational option for their children.

Some of the department's short-term goals include:

  1. Restructuring and building the department's capacity to lead the expansion in the diversity of quality offerings for families that promote positive interactions with HPS schools.

  2. Building the internal capacity of the schools to rebuild and strengthen the relationship with families, through the following:

    1. providing professional development and technical assistance to school leaders and teachers around culturally-relevant family engagement
    2. creating and supporting a diverse menu of strategies, tools and activities to be implemented in classrooms or school-wide to increase parent involvement and positive interactions with families
    3. supporting parent volunteer and resource teams and engaging these volunteers in systematic leadership development
    4. improving the working relationship with service agencies across Holyoke and the region to support family stability and well-being
    5. developing a system to address parent complaints, concerns and feedback promptly and effectively
  3. Transforming the Student Enrollment and Assignment Center into a main hub and a distributed network of access points for educational information across Holyoke (to be known as the HPS Family Resource System/Network) to provide clear and timely information to Holyoke families about key initiatives and opportunities.

  4. Supporting the management of key community partnerships (such as Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative) that expand opportunities for family engagement and lifelong learning.

  5. Revising the policies to address student attendance and punctuality issues as well as the related school-based procedures to manage attendance data, rewards and consequences.

  6. Completing the successful recruitment of students for alternative school programming, including the Pathways Program, for the fall of 2016.

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

The district's turnaround plan required a new professional compensation system to provide a career path that will compensate teachers based on individual effectiveness, professional growth, and student academic growth. Dr. Zrike shared details of this new system with the leadership of the Holyoke Teachers Association (HTA) on March 28. The district has invited the HTA to provide input on the plan, which will go into effect on July 1, 2016. The compensation plan is similar to plans currently in effect at Morgan Full Service Community School, the Springfield Empowerment Zone, and the Lawrence Public Schools.

All HPS teachers will receive an increase in their annual salaries this fall, the first increase in almost three years. This new compensation system is designed to retain and attract great teachers, while creating incentives for teachers to stay and deepen their impact on Holyoke students. In addition, the plan takes into consideration the different ways that educators work in HPS. For example, teachers in elementary and middle grades will work an extended day as compared to the teachers in the high school. Select teachers may choose to take on leadership roles in the district, such as serving on the teacher leadership cabinet, or in their schools.

The system includes a teacher career ladder containing five tiers-Novice, Developing, Career, Advanced, and Master-that compensate teachers commensurate with their development and impact on students. Under this new system, the district expects student outcomes to improve by creating a professional compensation system that will retain the best performers and attract new high-potential teachers.

All teachers received a personalized letter outlining their placement on the ladder and how this placement corresponds with compensation. The letter contains a video link to additional information about the system. The district also hosted information sessions about the new compensation system on April 15 and 20.

Priority Area 5: Organize the District for Successful Turnaround.

Holyoke Public Schools is excited to welcome Nicole LaChapelle to the district team. On May 2, 2016, Ms. LaChapelle joined the district as the Director of Special Education, taking over from Jennifer Baribeau, who was serving as acting director. Ms. LaChapelle has worked in the special education field for over 20 years and holds Massachusetts superintendent and special education certifications. Her work focuses on serving students and families who may lack knowledge of educational and community resources. Prior to her current position, Ms. LaChapelle was the director of an approved private special needs school.

Ms. LaChapelle attended Holyoke Public Schools and graduated from Holyoke High School. She received her B.A. from Smith College, majoring in government. After graduating from Western New England University School of Law, Ms. LaChapelle was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 2002.

Valuing the connection between education and business, Ms. LaChapelle is a longstanding member and current Co-Chair of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs sub-committee. She has served on numerous boards including the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Schools, Emerge MA Advisory Board, Children's Museum in Holyoke, Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts, regional housing authority, and local Zoning Board. In 2011, she received an Unsung Heroine Award from the Massachusetts Commission on Women.

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 May 24 to answer your questions.



Last Updated: May 16, 2016
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