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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
December 4, 2015


This memo updates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on our work with the Holyoke Public Schools (HPS). As with last month's update, I am providing 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.

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.

A key aspect of this priority area is the development of operational plans specific to each school. These plans, developed by school-based teams in the current school year, will outline 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 of developing operational plans is being differentiated between the nine K-8 schools and the two high schools. For the nine K-8 schools, school-based teams, comprised of 5 to 7 educators, will meet together on a regular basis to complete their plans by early January. Because of the need for a more comprehensive review of the high schools, a secondary redesign group is already meeting and will have recommendations for Receiver Stephen Zrike by mid-December.

Receiver Zrike reviewed the process for developing the school operational plans with principals in November. On December 2, HPS is hosting the first of four full-day learning sessions with all school-based teams. HPS administrators and leaders from the Boston-based National Center for Time and Learning (NCTL) are cooperatively planning and delivering this session. An operational plan template will be introduced and discussed with school teams at the December 2 learning session.

Priority Area 2: Establish Focused Practices for Improving Instruction

HPS has set a goal of completing by December 31, 2015 a review of its current kindergarten curriculum, instructional practices, and master scheduling practices, along with an initial exploration of best practices related to kindergarten instruction in high-performing schools and districts in Massachusetts.

On November 10, a group of educators from HPS visited Boston Public Schools (BPS) to observe models of early childhood education and to learn more about a new curriculum the district is piloting. BPS was chosen for the visit because of recent gains the district has achieved using the new curriculum. The HPS group visited classrooms, met with teachers and coaches, and met with BPS Early Childhood staff. The HPS group is meeting in December to begin a comparison of HPS's current curriculum and the model observed in Boston.

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

Central to the HPS turnaround plan is to regularly gather feedback and perspectives from multiple stakeholders in Holyoke to promote continuous improvement. The district met its goal to identify, by November 20, the student, staff, and parent survey instruments that will be used to measure the instructional and social/emotional climate in each school. The district now plans to articulate a process for collecting, analyzing, and using those data to inform school and district-wide improvement efforts.

Student and staff survey instruments were selected, released and completed by November 30 through an online platform. For families, paper-based and web-based family surveys were selected and each school is charged with developing an outreach strategy to support families in completing the survey by December 15. The district has set the goal of a 70% return rate for the family surveys.

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 within and across schools.

In November, HPS hired Pema Latshang as the Director for the Office of Professional Learning. Ms. Latshang has over 15 years of experience as a teacher, instructional leader, and teacher coach. Under Ms. Latshang's leadership, the district will develop a structure, clear responsibilities, and charge for the newly created Office of Professional Learning. Ms. Latshang will also lead a process to examine and improve current and new professional development offerings for the district.

Priority Area 5: Organize the District for Successful Turnaround

To guide the process of developing school operational plans (see Priority Area 1 above), the district has created autonomies and accountability frameworks. The autonomies framework identifies specific aspects of self-determination that Receiver Zrike may grant to each school, such as budget, scheduling, and staffing autonomies. In addition, the accountability framework will outline how the Receiver will evaluate each school's readiness to be granted these different autonomies.

Both the autonomies and accountability frameworks were shared and discussed with HPS principals on November 30. The principals and school-based teams will use the frameworks to complete the school operational plans. As described above, the school operational plan development process will launch in early December.

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 December 15 to answer your questions.

Last Updated: December 9, 2015
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