- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester is recommending the Holyoke Public Schools be put into state receivership.

Chester pointed to what he called the “persistent and pervasive” underperformance of Holyoke schools. He said only one in three students there is reading at grade level. Chester said he also based his recommendation on seven years of observing the district.

Chester told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday that he’ll ask for a vote to authorize state receivership later this spring. That vote will come after a public hearing.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni said receivership is a bad idea, adding that Holyoke schools are moving in the right direction and that receivership is a “drastic and disruptive action.”

She also said the state is failing to consider what she called the wide disparity in resources between Holyoke and wealthier communities.

“What we learn from Holyoke is that we still have a very long way to go to make sure that our children’s lives are not determined by the color of their skin, their first language spoken, or the size of their parents’ bank account,” she said.

She said any plan for the system must also include early education and early intervention programs and reduced class sizes.

Chester said he’s not blaming the teachers.

“I start with the assumption that there is lots of strong teaching and administration going on in Holyoke,” he said.

He said that when the state placed the Lawrence school system into receivership in 2011 most of the staff stayed, becoming part of the efforts to improve the schools there.

A district review by the state education department conducted in January pointed to a strained relationship between the local teachers’ union and local school officials

“School principals and central office administrators identified the relationship between the district and the Holyoke Teachers’ Association as a barrier to success. Union leaders said that teachers feel they are being blamed by the administration for the district’s low performance,” the report said.

Madeloni said teachers were unfairly being scapegoated as an obstacle to improving the schools.

Lawrence is currently the only school system in Massachusetts under state receivership.

Chester also pointed to another report that found that an additional $13 million in state and federal aid had been targeted at Holyoke during the past decade for professional development, technical assistance, and additional student learning time.

The Holyoke Public Schools consists of 11 schools, including a traditional high school and a vocational technical high school. One school, the Morgan Elementary School, is already under state receivership.

In the 2014-2015 school year, there were 5,573 students enrolled in Holyoke schools. Enrollment declined 5.5 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Student performance data shows low achievement and growth by all subgroups, with all but one school falling in the state’s bottom 20th percentile, according to the district review.


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