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Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS)

For Immediate Release
Monday, June 1, 2015
Contact:Jacqueline Reis, 781-605-4419,

Education Commissioner Chester Appoints Stephen K. Zrike Jr. as Receiver for the Holyoke Public Schools

Veteran educator led turnaround work in Boston and elementary schools in Chicago

HOLYOKE - Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester today appointed Stephen K. Zrike Jr., who has held leadership positions in both the Boston and Chicago public school systems, to be the receiver for the Holyoke Public Schools. Dr. Zrike is a lifelong educator who started as a teacher before going on to lead turnaround efforts at urban schools. He has extensive experience working with teachers and principals to improve student achievement. As chief of a network of elementary schools within the Chicago Public Schools from 2011 to 2013, he led instructional improvement efforts across 26 K-8 schools with 18,000 students, 96 percent of whom were Latino, 92 percent of whom were from low-income families and 40 percent of whom were English language learners. Prior to that, he led turnaround efforts at two Boston public schools and had a leadership role in improving two middle schools and two high schools. "Stephen Zrike's work in Boston and Chicago shows his dedication to urban students and his understanding of how to improve schools," Commissioner Chester said. "After the Holyoke Local Stakeholder Group draws up its recommendations, Stephen and I will work together on a district turnaround plan that builds on Holyoke's many assets. Stephen will implement that plan in collaboration with educators, parents, business leaders and students." "Dr. Zrike knows what it takes to turn around struggling urban schools and raise achievement among English Language Learners," said Education Secretary James A. Peyser. "I am confident that he will hit the ground running and put Holyoke Public Schools on a course toward excellence." Over his 17-year career in education, Dr. Zrike, who grew up speaking Spanish at home with his Cuban mother, has worked in urban and suburban educational systems as a teacher, principal, leadership coach, administrator and superintendent. While in Chicago, he helped improve school leadership through monthly principal network meetings and coaching aimed at improving instruction and increasing the rigor of lessons. "The children and families of Holyoke will benefit greatly from Dr. Zrike's experience and demonstrated dedication to working to improve urban public schools in diverse communities and settings where significant achievement gaps persist," said Paul Sagan, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Dr. Zrike's work in Boston included being principal of William Blackstone Elementary School in 2010, where he created and facilitated a stakeholder team designed to offer turnaround recommendations to the Boston superintendent. From 2007 to 2009, Dr. Zrike was principal of the William H. Ohrenberger School in Boston, where he collaborated with teaching staff and the director of instruction on a plan to increase student achievement scores. The result was a greater than 20 percent decrease in the percent of students who scored Warning on the English language arts MCAS and a more than 35 percent decrease in the percent of students who did so in math. He also increased family participation, engaged students through partnerships with outside agencies and launched a robust afterschool program. "I am honored by this opportunity to serve Holyoke students, and I am eager to engage educators, parents and the community in this work," Dr. Zrike said. "Turnaround efforts are challenging, and we will need everyone's support and participation if we are to offer all Holyoke students a better future." Dr. Zrike has been superintendent of the Wakefield Public Schools since 2013. During his tenure, the district designed and opened an early childhood center that tripled the number of pre-kindergarten students enrolled in the district and launched a successful effort to implement full-day, tuition-free kindergarten for all students in the 2015-16 school year. He also created a district-wide instructional coaching model to support teachers and launched an annual Parent University to provide families with workshops on a range of topics. Dr. Zrike holds a bachelor of arts degree in history from Dartmouth College, a master's degree in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and a doctorate in education, also from Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Commissioner Chester will remain the receiver until Dr. Zrike's appointment takes effect on July 6. As receiver, Dr. Zrike will be a state employee based in Holyoke and report directly to Commissioner Chester. Dr. Zrike's annual salary of $185,000 will be reimbursed from the district's existing school budget. 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. Under the statute, the commissioner and receiver will develop a Level 5 District Turnaround Plan that will include district priorities and strategies to accelerate achievement with measurable benchmarks connected directly to improvement for all Holyoke students. A local stakeholder group has already begun meeting and will offer recommendations on the plan's content. ###

Last Updated: June 1, 2015

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