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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
November 9, 2015


This memo updates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on our work with the Holyoke Public Schools (HPS). Beginning this month and continuing in subsequent monthly updates, I am providing an overview of the district's progress in implementing the key actions and achieving the benchmarks outlined in the HPS District Turnaround Plan. This memo provides some general updates about the district and information about the priority areas identified in the turnaround plan.

One key recent action was Receiver/Superintendent Stephen Zrike's hiring of Erin Linville as the district's Chief Officer for Strategy and Turnaround. Ms. Linville is responsible for managing, monitoring, and supporting implementation of the District Turnaround Plan and its key initiatives. Prior to joining HPS, Ms. Linville served as the Director of Strategy for the Chicago Public Schools' Pilsen-Little Village Network, serving over 17,000 students.

In October Dr. Zrike also made a leadership change at the Peck Middle School. Nancy Athas was hired as the acting principal at Peck for the remainder of the school year. Ms. Athas brings tremendous experience and a track record of success to Peck. She served 16 years as a teacher in the Holyoke Public Schools. Following her time in Holyoke, Ms. Athas served as assistant principal at West Springfield High School, principal of Greenfield High School, and recently completed five years as the principal of Northampton High School. Ms. Athas was born and raised in Holyoke and is eager to serve the community she calls home.

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.

HPS has committed to developing and implementing comprehensive strategies to address the needs of English language learners throughout the district. One benchmark is for the district to develop a plan to ensure that core academic teachers, and the administrators who supervise or evaluate them, earn the Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) endorsement by June 30, 2016. Led by the district's Director of ELL, Anna Lugo, HPS has developed a training program to ensure that the benchmark is met. The district has partnered with a local education collaborative to run three twelve-week courses in Holyoke to provide the SEI endorsement for its staff. The district expects that about 90 teachers and administrators will participate in the courses.

Priority Area 2: Establish Focused Practices for Improving Instruction

HPS has made a commitment to restructure credit-recovery programs, develop programs for over-aged, under-credited students, and reengage students who have left the district and those at risk of leaving. The Pathways Program, which is being launched in mid-November, is an alternative route to graduation for students who were not able to find success in the mainstream high school environment. Led by a newly hired director, the goal of the program is to provide students with comprehensive Individualized Learning Plans to help them reach their goals. Through collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club in Holyoke and Dean Technical Vocational High School, the district will offer a wider range of re-engagement opportunities for students. Students will be able to engage in credit recovery through the standards-based, online learning program called Plato at both locations. They will also have the ability to take 8-week accelerated classes led by a classroom teacher. Socio-emotional supports, in the form of expanded guidance counseling and coaching, will play a crucial role in helping these high needs students to regulate the impact of their personal lives on their academic performance.

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

HPS has committed to building relationships with families, repairing trust in the school district, and encouraging and supporting families to be active partners in students' learning. One of the strategies included in the turnaround plan is for teachers and staff to conduct home visits to build relationships with families. This summer approximately 100 families received home visits. School staff members have continued to conduct home visits in the months since school opened. Recently, twenty teachers from the E.N. White School visited homes, meeting with 16 families. Many teachers expressed what a profound experience it was to be in students' homes and to be welcomed by their families. Staff brought books and school supplies to the students and their siblings.

Another strategy is to employ a variety of ways to communicate with families to share information and seek their input and participation. Dr. Zrike and his team have distributed copies of the turnaround plan through various media and he has held meetings throughout the community with families. The goal of the meetings was to help families understand the content of the plan and get their feedback and input. In addition to hosting meetings in schools, Dr. Zrike also hosted several meetings in housing developments and at the city library. The meetings were held in English and Spanish.

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. Additionally, the district has committed to developing and enhancing systems and structures at the district and school levels to encourage and facilitate professional collaboration across and within schools. Several key actions have taken place in October and early November to support the execution of this strategy.

Per the turnaround plan benchmarks, the district begun to implement the MA Model Educator Evaluation System, as adapted by the Receiver, in October. Additionally, the district has held the first convening of school Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs) to evaluate their processes and structures and to share best practices. Finally, the district has hired a Director for the Office of Professional Learning. The Director will help develop a vision and plan for cultivating talent in the district by strengthening systems for induction, mentoring, apprenticeship, career progression, and professional development for teachers and leaders.

Priority Area 5: Organize the District for Successful Turnaround

HPS has committed to empowering schools to tailor turnaround strategies to their school communities and to develop and share innovations across the district. In order to accomplish this goal, the district has begun to create the process, templates, tools, and timelines that school-based teams will use to develop school operational plans. The goal is to finalize the school operational plan template and process by December 15, 2015 so that each school can use these tools to devise its operational plan.

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and Ventura Rodriguez, special assistant to the Commissioner and my liaison to Holyoke, Lawrence and Boston Public Schools, will be at the Board meeting on November 17th to answer your questions.

Last Updated: November 10, 2015
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