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Holyoke Public Schools Update

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
June 12, 2015


This memo provides the June monthly update to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education about our work with the Holyoke Public Schools. In this memo, I am reporting on:

  • Receiver announcement and engagement efforts;
  • Local stakeholder group meeting information and schedule;
  • Family and community engagement strategies;
  • Teacher and principal staffing update; and
  • School Year 2015-2016 budget.

Receiver Announcement and Engagement

As you are aware, on June 1, 2015, I appointed Dr. Stephen Zrike as the Receiver for Holyoke Public Schools (HPS), and he will assume this new position on July 6. (I will continue to serve as the Receiver until that date.) In order to prepare for his role as Receiver, Dr. Zrike has already engaged in various interactions with stakeholders in Holyoke and is in frequent communication with me and with Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and other members of our staff. Of particular note, during the first week of June, Dr. Zrike visited three schools in Holyoke and held his first meeting with principals and district leaders on June 5. Dr. Zrike will be returning to the district to visit Dean Technical Vocational High School and Holyoke High School later in June and will also be sending a letter to all HPS staff and families. I will introduce Dr. Zrike to the Board at our June 23 meeting.

Local Stakeholder Group

In compliance with M.G.L. c. 69, s. 1K(b), the HPS Local Stakeholder Group (LSG) was assembled and convened on May 27, within 30 days of the district being designated as chronically underperforming. The purpose of the LSG is to provide recommendations for the turnaround plan in order to maximize the rapid improvement of the academic achievement of students in HPS. The group will submit its recommendations to Dr. Zrike and me no later July 11. The work of the LSG provides an opportunity for the community to think creatively and envision a better future for the students and educators of HPS. I look forward to reviewing the LSG's ideas for how to create and promote positive change in the district.

The schedule of LSG meetings is below. Information about the content of each meeting can be found on the HPS website. Three of the five meetings already have taken place and a fourth will have taken place by the date of our meeting on June 23.

Meeting scheduleMeeting topic
Wednesday, May 27, 2:00-5:00 pmIntroductions, member roles and expectations
Monday, June 1, 3:00-6:00 pmStudent supports and special populations
Wednesday, June 10, 3:00-6:00 pmFamily and community engagement
Wednesday, June 17, 3:00-6:00 pmSecondary schools
Wednesday, July 1, 3:00-6:00 pmFinal wrap-up and review of recommendations

Family and Community Engagement

In order to engage Holyoke's families and community members, especially those who historically have had limited engagement with the schools, in conversations about how to improve the district, DESE staff members designed a three-tiered family and community engagement strategy. This strategy includes a series of bilingual, location-based community conversations; bilingual, school-based conversations at every school in HPS; and the development of an enhanced family and community communication system, which is used to disseminate important information, including the weekly Holyoke Update. During the past five weeks, 12 conversations have occurred, with approximately 450 people participating. A brief description of each tier is below. I will provide an update during our June 23 meeting.

Community conversations were held in four distinct neighborhoods in Holyoke during the week of May 18-22. Held in both English and Spanish, these neighborhood-based meetings were designed to be intimate in size in order to allow families to engage deeply in the dialogue. In total, the conversations attracted approximately 100 families and community members. School-based conversations have been scheduled for parents and families at every school in the district. The purpose of these meetings is to invite and answer questions and collect suggestions and feedback for my and Dr. Zrike's consideration. All of the 11 meetings took place between May 26 and June 11. Finally, in order to design a more comprehensive approach to family and community communication, an enhanced family and community communication system has been developed. This system builds on the existing structures in the district and includes web- and paper-based newsletters, social media outlets, and in-person conversations.

Staffing Update

HPS principals and academic directors completed summative teacher evaluations by June 1. In accordance with statutory requirements, teachers who were not recommended for professional teacher status (PTS) or renewal for the 2015-2016 school year will have received notification of their status by June 15. All teachers in good standing will receive a letter before June 23 informing them of their continued employment with HPS under Dr. Zrike's leadership. Similarly, returning non-teaching staff will receive letters of reasonable assurance before the close of the school year. All current HPS principals have been invited to return to their respective schools for next year, and the district has begun recruitment for teacher vacancies. One principal vacancy remains at the McMahon School (K-8). A selection team has begun to interview internal candidates and Dr. Zrike will be involved in the final interview and selection process.

School Year 2015-2016 Budget

Working with current Holyoke leadership, we have developed a budget for the 2015-2016 school year that meets the appropriation level requested of the City Council by the Mayor. The Mayor's requested appropriation of $64.1 million is approximately $578,000 over the current year's appropriation level and satisfies the city's net school spending obligations. Although the actual dollars increased, due to rising costs for salaries and other line items, the district had to reduce staff and non-personnel items by $2.8 million to balance the budget. In making budget reductions, the priority was to preserve the educational programming for students. Programmatic decisions that have been made include funding the expansion of the dual language immersion program at Metcalf, the expansion of Pre-K programs by 80 seats, and the creation of leadership positions for the Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP) at Peck and Dean. HPS and DESE staff members presented the budget at a City Council budget hearing on June 8. A public budget hearing has been scheduled for June 22, and the City Council has scheduled a hearing on the entire city budget for June 24. HPS and DESE staff members will be present at both of these meetings.

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and other members of the Department's Holyoke team will be at the Board's June 23 meeting to answer your questions. It will be my pleasure to introduce Receiver Stephen Zrike to you at that meeting.

Last Updated: June 17, 2015
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