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For Immediate Release
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Contact:Jacqueline Reis 781-338-3115

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Declares Holyoke Public Schools "Chronically Underperforming"

Vote authorizes the education commissioner to appoint a receiver for the district to dramatically improve outcomes for all students

Fitchburg - The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today voted 8-3 to designate Holyoke Public Schools a chronically underperforming ("Level 5") district, thereby authorizing Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester to appoint a receiver for the district.

That receiver, which will be an individual or a non-profit group with a proven record of success in improving low-performing schools or districts or the academic performance of disadvantaged students, will have all the powers of the superintendent and school committee and will report directly to the commissioner.

"I approach receivership with a profound sense of responsibility to the youth and city of Holyoke," Commissioner Chester said. "In light of the persistent and pervasive underperformance of the district, it simply is not defensible to leave on the table the tools and authorities that receivership provides. For this reason, I applaud the Board's vote."

The Board's level of concern about the Holyoke Public Schools was amplified in recent months following the release of a February 2015 District Review Report that described a district with persistent and pervasive underperformance.

Student achievement and growth in the Holyoke Public Schools are among the lowest in the state overall and for student subgroups, including students with disabilities and English language learners.

  • The highest performing school in the district is at the 21st percentile among schools in its grade span, and many are in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide.
  • From 2011 to 2014, student academic achievement and growth declined in many grades and subjects, contributing to a widening proficiency gap.
  • One of the district's schools, Morgan Full Service Community School, was designated chronically underperforming in fall 2013 due to its low student performance over several years.
  • In addition to the disturbing achievement data, the district's on-time graduation rate is the lowest of any K-12 district in the state and the dropout rate is one of the highest.

The Achievement Gap Act of 2010 provided the mechanism for the Board's vote to designate a school district as chronically underperforming. Under the statute, Commissioner Chester and the receiver he appoints will create a Level 5 District Turnaround Plan that will include priorities and strategies to accelerate achievement with measurable benchmarks of progress that connect directly to improved outcomes for students in all schools. To assist in the development of that plan, a local stakeholder group will be convened to provide recommendations on the plan's content. That group will include representatives from multiple stakeholder groups, including teachers, families, social service agencies, early education, higher education, and the Holyoke community.

"Rapid improvement in results will not come from business as usual," Commissioner Chester said. "There are many talented teachers and staff in Holyoke, and I welcome those who are willing to commit to the turnaround process we are undertaking. We will need their help to rethink the educational program from the ground up."

The Commissioner is expected to name a receiver later this spring, with the goal that the receiver will assume authority of the district in summer 2015. During the 2015-2016 school year, the receiver will begin to implement the Level 5 District Turnaround Plan. The Commissioner and receiver will provide regular updates to the Board, the Holyoke School Committee, and Holyoke stakeholders during the Level 5 work.

The Board's vote was informed by extensive public comment from the Holyoke community, which included written statements and a special meeting in Holyoke on April 27 at which 65 individuals representing municipal, district, union, parent, student, and community stakeholders addressed the Board directly.

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Last Updated: April 28, 2015
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