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For Immediate Release
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Contact:Jacqueline Reis 781-338-3115

Education Commissioner and Holyoke Receiver Announce Turnaround Plan for Rapid Improvement of Holyoke Schools

Holyoke - Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and Holyoke Public Schools Receiver Stephen Zrike, Jr. today announced the Level 5 District Turnaround Plan for the Holyoke Public School District. The plan recognizes every student's ability to learn and maps out strategies for raising all students' academic achievement.

The district's turnaround plan was informed by the recommendations of the local stakeholder group that met five times from May to July. The plan envisions a school system in which effective educators deliver a world-class education to all Holyoke students. By focusing on high-quality instruction, a supportive school culture, shared responsibility and high-functioning district systems, Holyoke Public Schools will enable all students to reach their full potential.

The plan announced today will implement a number of strategies to dramatically improve student performance and educator effectiveness. For instance, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, the district will extend the school day for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. In addition, Dr. Zrike is convening a group of experts on secondary education to draw up recommendations about how Holyoke could reshape students' middle and high school years so that all students have individualized college and/or career plans and multiple routes to reach their goals.

"This plan calls for bold measures that are necessary to rapidly improve the education of Holyoke students," said Commissioner Chester. "I am happy to support Dr. Zrike as he and Holyoke educators and families work to provide all Holyoke students a strong academic program that will prepare them for success after high school."

"This ambitious turnaround plan has students at its core," said Secretary of Education James A. Peyser. "With this plan, I believe the district is set on a path toward ensuring that Holyoke students are receiving a high-quality education. I look forward to working with and supporting Dr. Zrike in the implementation of this plan."

The Achievement Gap Act of 2010 provided the legal framework for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's April 28, 2015 vote to designate Holyoke Public Schools a Level 5 ("chronically underperforming") district and place the district into receivership. Earlier this year, Commissioner Chester appointed Stephen Zrike Jr. as receiver for the Holyoke Public Schools, and he started work in July. With this turnaround plan, Dr. Zrike has the powers of the district superintendent and school committee.

A Level 5 designation brings with it the expectation that sweeping changes need to be made, including significant improvements in teaching and learning; improvements in the recruiting, hiring, supporting, supervising and evaluating of all personnel; and higher expectations for students.

"I have spent the last few months listening to and building relationships with educators, families, students and community members and studying the details of Holyoke's schools," said Dr. Zrike. "I appreciate all the insight that people have shared, and I look forward to working with the entire community to build upon the district's strengths and implement this plan on behalf of Holyoke students."

To achieve the vision of the turnaround plan, the district will focus on five priority areas:

Priority Area 1: Provide high-quality instruction and student-specific supports for all students, including students with disabilities and English language learners

  • Includes creating a culture of high expectations for all students and building an instructional program based on students' cultural and linguistic strengths

Priority Area 2: Establish focused practices for improving instruction

  • This would strengthen instruction in targeted areas, such as the middle grades, and includes re-engaging disconnected youth and ensuring educational tools and materials are high-quality

Priority Area 3: Create a climate and culture that support students and engage families

  • Includes identifying and addressing students' strengths and needs, repairing relationships with families and building trust in the school system

Priority Area 4: Develop leadership, shared responsibility and professional collaboration

  • Includes putting staff's knowledge to work in formal and informal leadership roles, encouraging professional collaboration, and evaluating employees through a streamlined, fair and transparent process that provides opportunities for growth.

Priority Area 5: Organize the district for a successful turnaround

  • Includes building systems to recruit, develop and retain strong educators and deploy them where most needed; maximizing the use of school time and adding time where needed; redesigning the central office to focus on supporting schools; and preparing the school committee to sustain improvements after receivership ends.

"I see this plan as a positive new beginning for Holyoke students," said Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. "The turnaround plan recognizes the strengths that are already present and will engage educators and the community in spreading those strengths to all Holyoke students. I look forward to seeing the schools become an even stronger part of our city."

The district's turnaround strategies will include concentrated efforts to improve its lowest performing schools: Morgan Full Service Community School (Level 5) and William J. Dean Vocational Technical High School (Level 4). Already this year, Morgan teachers engaged in additional professional development before the start of school.

"There are many committed educators in Holyoke, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to strengthen all our schools through this plan," Dr. Zrike said.

The turnaround plan will be available online at and


Last Updated: October 1, 2015
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