BESE vote strips Holyoke of local control of schools

During a public hearing on April 27, HTA member Angie Thatcher read a list of the 120 education associations, community organizations and labor groups that had signed a resolution opposing the state takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools. During a public hearing on April 27, HTA member Angie Thatcher read a list of the 120 education associations, community organizations and labor groups that had signed a resolution opposing the state takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools.

Despite overwhelming opposition from the community, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted on April 28 to place the Holyoke Public Schools into receivership, stripping the city of local control.

MTA President Barbara Madeloni said she was appalled that a majority of the BESE members voted to support Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s recommendation to declare the Holyoke Public Schools a Level 5 “underperforming” district and begin a state takeover. Chester will serve as the receiver until he appoints one in the coming months.

On the evening before the vote, the BESE held a public hearing in Holyoke. For more than four hours, the board heard testimony from residents, educators, students and elected leaders. Almost all of those who testified spoke against a takeover.

Chester and his supporters on the BESE ignored the message that the community wanted to retain democratic control of its schools and that community members had expressed faith that educators and district leaders would continue making strides in student achievement.

The BESE vote also rejected a vision for public schools that had been defined by the Holyoke community.

“Parents, educators and students made clear that they want schools that offer a broad, well-rounded curriculum. It is chilling to hear BESE Chairman Paul Sagan refer to education as ‘data points,’” Madeloni said.

The MTA, the Holyoke Teachers Association, the Holyoke Paraprofessionals Association and the Holyoke Public School Secretaries will continue to make their voices heard as the receivership process unfolds, and they will continue to fight to protect collective bargaining and due process rights.

The MTA and the Holyoke educator associations are also committed to their work in the community. For months, the HTA and Western Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, along with their community partners, have been meeting with parents and residents.

“The HTA has clearly seen that parents and students are hungry for schools that have art, music and other enrichment programs; schools with librarians; schools with small class sizes and courses that reflect the city’s diversity,” said HTA President Gus Morales. “We have renewed relationships between educators and parents, and we will continue to build on those with the goal of creating the schools that Holyoke children deserve.”

Ed Doherty, Mary Ann Stewart, and Donald Willyard — the BESE members who respectively represent educators, parents and students — voted against the takeover.

Morales told Holyoke educators the day after the vote that they could take some satisfaction in the fact that the two BESE members who had actually visited the city’s schools — Willyard and Stewart — questioned the report prepared by Chester’s review team that declared the schools “underperforming” and voted in opposition.

Related Resources