- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

HOLYOKE, Mass. (AP) - A struggling western Massachusetts school system is getting a new state-appointed leader.

State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester on Monday named Stephen Zrike receiver for the Holyoke Public Schools. It will be Zrike’s job to turn around the system.

Chester said Zrike has held leadership positions in the Boston and Chicago public school systems, including heading up a network of elementary schools in Chicago from 2011 to 2013.

Zrike has been superintendent of the Wakefield Public Schools since 2013.

The state board voted April 28 to take control of the Holyoke school district, citing what it portrayed as disturbing trends in student achievement and dropout rates. The city of Lawrence is currently the only other Massachusetts school district in receivership.

State education officials have said overall student achievement in Holyoke’s public schools is among the lowest of any school district in Massachusetts, with many schools ranking in the bottom 10 percent statewide. Holyoke’s on-time graduation rate was the lowest of any K-12 system in the state, and its dropout rate among the highest, they added.

“Stephen Zrike’s work in Boston and Chicago shows his dedication to urban students and his understanding of how to improve schools,” Chester said in a statement.

Chester said during his time in Chicago, Zrike 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.

Before that, Zrike led turnaround efforts at two Boston public schools and had a leadership role in improving two middle schools and two high schools, Chester said.

Chester has formed an 18-member advisory committee to help create a plan for the Holyoke schools. The committee met last week for the first time.

Chester will remain as receiver until Zrike’s appointment takes effect on July 6.

Zrike will report directly to Chester and receive an annual salary of $185,000.

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