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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
March 11, 2016


This memo 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.

Holyoke Public Schools has committed to developing and implementing comprehensive strategies to address the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs) throughout the district. One specific goal is to ensure that its English Language Education/English Language Development (ELE/ELD) program fosters rapid English language acquisition and academic growth for ELL students.

As reported in the February memo, the district has contracted with The Learning Innovations Laboratory at WestEd to conduct a review of current services for ELL students and develop a plan to maximize availability of quality services for gaining higher levels of English language proficiency throughout students' academic program. The review group conducted focus groups with families, students, teachers, principals, and central office administrators and will present a preliminary draft of their recommendations to Receiver/Superintendent Dr. Stephen Zrike on March 17.

As an additional support to ELL students, the district is working on consistent implementation of Sheltered English Instruction (SEI) strategies across all of its classrooms and HPS has taken several steps in the past month to achieve this goal. Seventy core academic teachers are in the process of earning the SEI endorsement to their educator license with support from the Collaborative for Educational Services. Once these teachers complete the program, it will signal that nearly 100% of core academic teachers in the district are SEI-endorsed. Plans are underway to offer SEI courses in the fall for teachers new to Holyoke and non-core-academic teachers.

Priority Area 2: Establish Focused Practices for Improving Instruction.

Holyoke Public Schools is committed to building structures designed to support students who are not on track for on-time graduation and reengage those who have left the system. One specific strategy in the turnaround plan is the creation of vacation academies, which are targeted programs during school vacation periods that provide intensive support to struggling students. The district is currently planning a math-focused vacation academy for 288 students in grades four to eight who are below grade level. The program, offered at two schools in Holyoke during April vacation week, will meet for 6 hours a day and serve students from all across the district. The vacation academy will be taught by 24 math teachers with track records of accelerating student growth. The district will select educators from both within and outside Holyoke to teach in its academies. Additionally, at least 3 teachers will work during the vacation academy to provide enrichment activities to students. The goal of the vacation academies is for students to master identified skills or standards.

As reported by Dr. Zrike during the February Board meeting, the HPS Secondary Redesign Work Group (SRWG) met for three months and developed a series of recommendations on how to create stronger college and career pathways to close skills gaps and opportunity gaps for students in Holyoke. Dr. Zrike is currently gathering feedback from stakeholders in Holyoke to help him prioritize the recommendations to accept. Dr. Zrike plans to finalize his list of recommendations to implement later this month.

To support the implementation of the final set of recommendations, the district has contracted with Dr. Barbara Crock to serve as a strategic planner and project manager for secondary redesign. Dr. Crock will lead the development of a detailed project plan and will work with internal and external stakeholders to identify the financial and programmatic implications, support the development of pathways for students, and map out scheduling options.

Dr. Crock is an experienced educational leader and strategic consultant. She has deep experience in public education and urban school reform and is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Urban Superintendents Program. Dr. Crock previously worked within Chicago Public Schools, Boston Public Schools, San Francisco Unified School District, and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as a secondary mathematics teacher, instructional coach, school administrator for PK-12, founding principal of a 6-12 public school, and central office administrator. Dr. Crock is expected to begin work in mid-March and conclude in late August.

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

As reported by Dr. Zrike during the February meeting, the district administered culture and climate surveys to students, staff, and families in December and January. Principals, staff, and district leaders have reviewed and analyzed the results and are using the findings to set goals and drive improvements. Two themes that stood out from the data were the need to improve student safety and discipline in many schools and the need for a common culture of high expectations for students throughout the district. The district has taken several steps to address these findings.

District leaders, in partnership with staff from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), have established a team to explore how to utilize the Massachusetts Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework to support schools in developing and implementing a proactive, multi-tiered system of social-emotional and instructional supports for all students. The district team will examine the system level changes that must be made across classrooms, schools, and the district to meet the academic and non-academic needs of all students.

District leaders also are working with principals and faculty members to establish a district-wide framework that explicitly names the "conditions for learning" that should be present in every school. Additionally, the district is in the process of developing a set of common values. The goal is to develop a common vision guide improvement efforts for all children.

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

Holyoke Public Schools is committed to ensuring that its educators and other staff have the knowledge and skills needed to drive student learning, growth and achievement. Several initiatives are underway related to increasing the frequency, quality, and type of professional development for teachers and staff. One specific strategy launched this month is the district's "Holyoke University." Holyoke University provides a menu of no-cost professional development opportunities for Holyoke Public School educators taught by their peers. Courses meet once a week after-school for the month of March. The program is being coordinated by Holyoke Public Schools' Director for the Office of Professional Learning.

Another strategy to support teachers' professional development and increase the quality of their instruction is the creation of a new teachers' induction and mentoring program. The new program is being supported by the Elevate Preparation: Impact Children grant (EPIC) from DESE and will target new teachers coming from traditional educator preparation programs. All new teachers hired will participate in a pre-service institute to introduce them to, and provide them opportunities to plan and practice with, the strategies and approaches they will be coached on during the academic year. These sessions will be highly interactive and practical, including role plays, simulations, and cycles of feedback to the new teachers. Holyoke will require new teachers to participate in the induction and mentoring support program as a condition of employment.

Once school begins, the teachers will receive weekly visits from New Teacher Induction Coaches for the first two months of school. In these coaching sessions, new teachers will receive support and feedback around the strategies they learned and practiced during the summer Induction Institute. After the first two months, ongoing coaching and support from the New Teacher Induction Coaches will be tailored to the needs of individual educators. While it will primarily serve 40 new teachers each year in the next two years, the long-term goal is that the new teacher induction program will become a model to support all educators in the district.

Priority Area 5: Organize the District for Successful Turnaround.

Holyoke Public Schools is committed to recruiting, retaining, and deploying employees strategically to lead and implement the district's turnaround strategies. The district is committed to using innovative strategies to aggressively recruit and hire talented individuals to work in the Holyoke Public Schools. There have been key hires in the district during the past month, including:

Anthony Soto, Chief Finance and Operations Officer
Anthony W. Soto will join Holyoke Public Schools as Chief Finance and Operations Officer in early April. Anthony is currently the Budget Director of Springfield Public Schools, where he manages a budget of over $450 million across over 50 schools. A life-long Holyoke resident and 1999 graduate of Dean Technical High School, Anthony holds a Master's Degree in Accounting and is a certified School Business Administrator in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is a proud father of a 4-year-old son who will also be joining Holyoke Public Schools next fall.

Beth Gage, Chief Talent Officer
Beth Gage will join HPS as the Chief Talent Officer in early March. Beth is currently the Chief Administrative Officer for the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (SEZP) where she supports the execution of the overall vision and strategy for nine Level 4 middle schools, particularly in relation to operations, finance, staffing, and public relations. Prior to her role as the Chief Administrative Officer, she worked in Human Resources and Payroll with the Springfield Public Schools where she gained experience with process redesign, negotiations, labor and employee relations. Beth holds a Bachelor's Degree in Business from Johnson State College. In addition, she holds her Senior Professional in Human Resources certification from the Human Resource Certificate Institute and has completed the Massachusetts Association for School Business Officials Licensure Program. Beth will work to develop Human Resources operations to better serve and support the district's schools while attracting, developing, and retaining great talent.

Additional Updates

In addition to providing an update on the five priority areas in the turnaround plan, there are also two announcements worth noting:

First, William J. Dean Technical High School students travelled to Boston, Massachusetts on February 25, 2016 to join Governor Baker and members of the Massachusetts Workforce Skills Cabinet at an event where it was announced that the school was awarded a $393,156 Massachusetts Skills Capital Grant to purchase and install vocational technical equipment. As part of the comprehensive district turnaround effort, Dean Technical High School will transform its existing machine technology shop into an advanced manufacturing shop that aligns with current industry practices and technologies, in order to connect Holyoke students to career opportunities in the Pioneer Valley's skilled manufacturing workforce.

Second, Holyoke Public Schools is one of 130 districts nationally to be placed on the College Board's Gaston Caperton Opportunity Honor Roll for Expanding Access to College. The districts featured on the Honor Roll are recognized for expanding access to higher education for students by demonstrating significant and consistent growth in the number of underrepresented students and students from lower-income backgrounds participating in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, taking the SAT, and applying to four or more colleges.

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 March 22 to answer your questions.

Last Updated: March 14, 2016
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