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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 9, 2016


This memo updates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on our work with the Holyoke Public Schools (HPS). In April 2015, the Board voted to designate the Holyoke Public Schools chronically underperforming (Level 5), placing the district in state receivership. In July 2015, I appointed Dr. Stephen Zrike as Receiver of the district. The district's turnaround plan, released on October 1, 2015, is driven by five strategic priorities: High Quality Instruction for All; Personalized Pathways; Supporting Empowered Schools; Engaged Students, Families and Community; and An Effective and Thriving Workforce. In this memo, I provide a brief overview of some the district's key actions to date and current areas of work.

During the 2015-2016 school year, the district undertook several initiatives as part of the turnaround plan. A major area of focus was supporting every K-8 school in developing plans for extending the school day (full day plans) for students to 7.5 hours. The increased time allows for more time for professional learning and collaboration, as well as additional opportunities for student enrichment. To support the full day plans, the district invested $1.2 million in a new professional compensation system for teachers. This investment was made possible by the district's redesign of its central office, which led to approximately $700,000 being reallocated directly to schools.

This school year, the district has implemented several key initiatives. One initiative is that all 9th grade students in the district now attend a 9th grade academy at Holyoke High School. The 9th grade academy allows all students to have a common foundational experience at the high school level. As part of this program, 9th grade students are eligible to participate in exploratory opportunities at Dean Technical High School. The exploratory program is a way for students from across the district to become exposed to many of the 13 shops currently offered at Dean. Upon completing 9th grade, students can decide to stay at Holyoke High School or apply for admission to Dean.

Another strategy, focused at the elementary level, is the district's expansion of its dual-language program by size and program location. This year, the program serves students in grades pre-K through 2nd, (last year the program served grades pre-K - 1) and will continue to grow by one grade level every year. The district also opened a dual-language pre-K classroom at EN White Elementary School to meet the growing demand for the program.

A significant addition to the leadership team was the hiring of Luis Soria as the district's Chief Academic Officer. Mr. Soria has been an educator for 23 years, including most recently serving as Chief of Schools for Network 8 in the Chicago Public Schools. In this role, he led, coached, and developed 33 school administrators and staff in the Network of Chicago Public Schools with the highest population of low income students and English Learners. In Network 8, he was responsible for the achievement of 30,000 students. In Holyoke, Mr. Soria is working to provide direct support to schools around the design and effectiveness of their curricula, instruction, and professional development.

To further the secondary redesign work launched in the 2015-2016 school year, the district is engaging stakeholders in identifying, piloting and building sustainable secondary school models to challenge current practice and transform the high school experience, resulting in complementary, competitive and 21st century learning pathways. Innovation and Design teams were launched early this fall, which include parents, teachers, students, community members and school leaders. This work is supported by a $300,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to explore (not replicate) ideas from high schools visited across Massachusetts and the country (113 schools visited to date). This winter, these teams will present proposals to the community that have the potential of transforming the high school experience for our youth.

With the support of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the district engaged in a comprehensive facility study that offered multiple options and strategies for introducing new buildings into the district's portfolio of schools. The district is holding a series of community meetings to solicit input and ideas about the different potential school construction plans. The documents associated with the study and the community presentations are available on the district's website and have been distributed widely throughout Holyoke.

Dr. Zrike will be at the Board meeting on December 20, along with Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and Ventura Rodriguez, Director of DESE's Office of Strategic Transformation, to present the progress report and answer your questions.

Last Updated: October 3, 2014
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