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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
February 12, 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. Holyoke Public Schools' Receiver Dr. Steve Zrike will be at the Board's meeting on February 22 to address the Board on the topics outlined in this memo as well as other matters related to the implementation of the district's turnaround plan.

The Therapeutic Intervention Program at Peck School

As discussed during the January 2016 Board meeting, Dr. Zrike and staff from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education conducted 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 has now concluded. A copy of the investigation report will be sent to all Board members under separate cover. Dr. Zrike and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education staff will discuss the findings with the Board during the February 22 Board meeting.

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

As I stated in my update memo in January, 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. On January 28, all school-based teams submitted a draft of the teaching and learning section of their plans to Erin Linville, the district's Chief of Strategy and Turnaround. On January 29, twenty educators from school-based teams visited Lawrence Public Schools to learn about their implementation of extended learning time. On February 2, the school-based teams met for another session with National Center of Time and Learning, which focused on teacher collaboration and enhanced school culture. The first draft of each school's full day operational plan is due to Ms. Linville on February 26.

Priority 1 of the district's turnaround plan has a clear focus on developing and implementing comprehensive strategies to address the needs of English language learners (ELL) throughout the district. The goal is for each school to have clear pathways for ELL students to gain higher levels of English proficiency throughout their academic experiences. A comprehensive review of ELL services in the Holyoke Public Schools is being conducted by the Learning Innovations Program at WestEd. This group of experienced researchers and practitioners will lead a comprehensive and collaborative program review that will yield relevant and useful recommendations to inform decisions and future actions. The review commenced on Friday, January 22 and will continue throughout February. An anonymous survey to gather perspectives and input was sent to all district staff on February 3. Focus groups of stakeholders including administrators, teachers, students, and parents will be held on February 8 and 9. The WestEd group will report its recommendations for high impact improvement activities by March 2016, followed by recommendations on possible alternative ELL programs by April 2016.

Priority Area 2: Establish Focused Practices for Improving Instruction

The HPS Secondary Redesign Work Group (SRWG) met for three months to develop a series of recommendations on how to create stronger college and career pathways to close skills gaps and opportunity gaps for students in Holyoke. The group concluded its work and submitted recommendations to Dr. Zrike on January 25. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Increased collaboration, coordination, and resource sharing across the high schools
  • Creation of the Holyoke Community College (HCC) Academy at Dean, a partnership with HCC to provide dual enrollment, career pathways, and early college opportunities for students. The recommendation is to launch manufacturing and health careers pathways in the fall of 2016. The entry point to HCC Academy at Dean would begin in grade 10.
  • Providing all 9th grade students at Holyoke High School with stronger exposure to career-vocational-technical education program options and a stronger 9th grade experience (e.g., smaller learning communities, freshman orientation, signature experience)
  • Individual learning plans (ILPs) for all incoming 9th grade students
  • Greater coordination for career development education across both high schools and in middle school
  • Stronger industry connections (e.g. programs match labor market demand, co-locating community-based organizations with focus on career readiness)
  • Greater mental health and career development support for students (e.g., shop advisors acting in advisory capacity, wraparound services, redesigned middle school and high school guidance structure)
  • Alternative high school programming, including a school for over-aged students who have not earned enough credits to graduate, and expansion of the district's new Pathways programming
  • Increased student voice and active student participation, such as through expanding restorative justice and peer mentoring
  • Increased cultural competency in our work with hiring, curriculum, instructional approaches, and overall staff culture
  • Establish a 6-14 STEM Academy at Dean for the 2017-18 school year.

The next step aligned to the turnaround plan benchmarks is for Dr. Zrike to review the recommendations and to decide which ones he will accept. To help him prioritize the recommendations to accept, Dr. Zrike is currently gathering feedback on the recommendations from various stakeholders in Holyoke. By March 26th, Dr. Zrike will determine the specific recommendations he will accept and develop a plan for their implementation. A request for proposals (RFP) for a project manager/consultant to coordinate the implementation plan was released on February 3, with a goal of having the person begin work in late February.

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

One of the district's priorities 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 turnaround plan calls for the district to designate clear central office leadership for the organization of student and family engagement efforts in order to support and monitor those efforts across the district and at each school. On February 1, the district welcomed Ileana Cintrón as the Director of Family and Community Engagement. Reporting directly to Dr. Zrike, Ms. Cintrón is charged with establishing and strengthening family-school-district-community relationships by overseeing all school-based Family Engagement Staff and the Student Assignment Center, and establishing a Family Resource Center.

Ms. Cintrón brings to this role 20 years of experience leading organizations, mentoring leaders, and building capacity to advance policies and programs for social and economic equity and community empowerment. Before coming to Holyoke, Ms. Cintrón was a Research Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she launched the U.S. Latino Public Leadership Initiative. Previously, Ms. Cintrón served as Program Manager at the Jobin?Leeds Partnership for Democracy and Education and also served as a Special Initiatives Associate at Access Strategies Fund, where she managed the Women's Pipeline for Change, a coalition of women of color leaders and allies supporting women of color in public leadership in Massachusetts. Before relocating to Boston in 2007, Ms. Cintrón was co?founder and Executive Director of CAPEDCOM, a nonprofit in her native Puerto Rico that advanced community development, school reform, community?based prevention and civic engagement efforts. She also served as the first Coordinator of the Support Network for Community Groups in Social and Economic Development, a coalition of fourteen community organizations focused on improving public policy and partnership opportunities with government agencies, businesses, higher education institutions and media outlets to address the needs of low income communities in Puerto Rico. Ms. Cintrón received a B.A. in Anthropology and Latin American Studies from Yale University and a Master in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

As noted in the January 2016 Board memo, the district administered culture and climate surveys to students, staff, and families in December and January. Principals have received training from Panorama Education on how to analyze and use their survey results to set goals and drive improvements. Dr. Zrike will present a summary of the survey findings to the Board at the February 22 meeting.

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

Holyoke Public Schools is working to ensure that its educators and other staff have the knowledge and skills needed to drive student learning, growth, and achievement. Central to this goal is developing a structure, clear responsibilities, and charge for an Office of Professional Learning. As reported in the December Board memo, the district hired Pema Latshang as the Director of Professional Learning and Leadership Development. Under her leadership, the charge for the office was developed and approved by Dr. Zrike, and includes a focus on supporting schools in developing high quality professional development. The district aims to ensure that staff members have access to a wide range of professional learning opportunities, including teacher-led, school-based sessions aligned to school goals, peer observations of model classrooms, and job-embedded professional development.

The turnaround plan also calls for the creation of a professional learning task force to begin the work of developing professional development offerings for school year 2016-2017. The task force is comprised of 11 educators from across the district and will hold its first meeting on February 12. The group will establish norms, goals, roles and responsibilities and their scope of work.

Finally, an assessment of the district's teacher and staff induction and mentoring activities is underway and will be completed in February by the Director of Professional Learning and Educator Leadership. An RFP was released on February 5 for a partner to help redesign the induction and mentoring program.

Priority Area 5: Organize the District for Successful Turnaround

As noted in the January 2016 memo, 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 district is also conducting an audit and analysis of its data management systems and technology infrastructure, to determine what new technology may be needed to gain efficiencies in existing district systems, such as human resources, payroll, and office systems. Dr. Zrike will present a summary of the findings and recommendations from both reviews to the Board at the February 22 meeting.

Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston, Steve Zrike, and Ventura Rodriguez, special assistant to the Commissioner and my liaison to Holyoke, will be at the Board meeting on February 22 to answer your questions.

Last Updated: February 19, 2016
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