Citing an effective turnaround strategy, Holyoke Receiver/Superintendent Anthony Soto recommended in a December 21 letter to the state Education Commissioner “that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education begin the transition to exit receivership in a careful and highly planned manner.”
In his letter to Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley, Soto outlines the turnaround plan drawn up to return Holyoke schools to local control. The letter begins with an acknowledgement that the Holyoke school department, prior to receivership, “lacked many instructional and operational systems required to run a district well.” Weaknesses included “inconsistent instructional quality, incomplete assessment system, challenges at the secondary level, absence of leadership opportunities for teachers and staff, limited school-based autonomy, and outdated technology and data systems.”
In the early years of receivership, Soto wrote, “the district focused on redesigning the high school experience to decrease dropout rates and increase graduation rates, introducing standards-aligned curriculum, expanding preschool and dual language, strengthening data systems, and modernizing central office support.” More recently, Soto stated, “the district has strengthened and systematized support to school leaders and teachers to implement strong instructional practices so that students can acquire foundational skills and access grade-level content and learning.”
Soto wrote that the district still has challenges. “Student achievement and growth on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) continue to fall below the state average,” he reported. He wrote that a contributing factor to below-average performance is “the high rate of chronic absenteeism.”
Soto added that a “tight labor market and more challenging working conditions” in Holyoke have “resulted in a significant number of unfilled teaching and staff positions, a less experienced staff, and lower teacher retention rates than the state averages.”
Soto emphasized that the state “should ensure that the transition to local control is done thoughtfully and in partnership with the School Committee in order to limit disruption to students, families, and staff.” He identified areas still in need of work as well as strategies for implementing improvements.
Commissioner Riley sent a letter to Mayor Garcia on December 22 stating he will review our submitted petition and Soto’s written arguments for transitioning back to local control and that the City can expect to receive his written response to our petition on or before February 2, 2024.