The majority of the Massachusetts State Education Board has voted in support of a state takeover of the troubled Holyoke school district.
The district has been considered a “level 4” school since 2003, meaning they are consistently performing below state standards. The takeover, which was approved in an 8-3 vote, could mean longer school days for students, and teachers may have to reapply for their jobs.
“It is out of incredible concern about the future of the young people of Holyoke,” said Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester. “While there are young people getting an outstanding education in Holyoke, overall the low results for our young people are persistent and they’re pervasive.”
The meeting saw Holyoke residents explaining to members of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education why the state should take over the failing district. However, most in attendance argued for the district to remain under local control, reports Kari Njiiri for NEPR.
While a rally pushed for schools in the area to continue to operate under local control, over 90 residents and local school and elected officials had signed up to speak inside.
Resident Paula Burke was one such speaker. She urged state education officials to not judge the district solely on MCAS test scores. She argued that many students in the schools were living below the poverty line, transient, and possibly could not read or write in English.
“Educators as a whole have been the recipients of disrespect and blame for far too long,” Burke says. “Don’t continue this cycle of abuse by demoralizing our teachers and students with a takeover. They deserve more. We as a community deserve more.”
Burke went on to say that the district has begun to show improvements since superintendent Sergio Paez took office 19 months ago.
Paez said he did have a plan for the district, but that plan could take three to five additional years before any results are seen.
However, Chester said there has not been enough improvement in that time, referring to the repeatedly low test scores of students throughout the district.
Sonia Pope, director of the Holyoke Community Charter School, agreed, saying that various plans over the years have not done enough to help the district reach the level of success they should be seeing.
“We have had a plan since 2003. And this plan does not have major improvements,” Pope says. “So it is time that the commissioner put his foot down and say we cannot afford to waste anymore time of our children.”