Educators voice concerns about plan for Holyoke schools

Both Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni and Holyoke Teachers Association President Gus Morales are voicing concerns about the turnaround plan for the Holyoke Public Schools that was released today by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester placed the Holyoke Public Schools into state receivership earlier this year.

“The turnaround plan does not fully take into account the needs in Holyoke,” Madeloni said. “It does not speak to the joy and creativity that should be present in our schools and instead focuses on the dehumanizing use of standardized tests to determine student achievement,” she added. “We have seen how standardized testing has only been used to punish students and educators in Holyoke and has done nothing to promote a comprehensive education.”

“It does not speak to the joy and creativity that should be present in our schools and instead focuses on the dehumanizing use of standardized tests to determine student achievement.“

— MTA President Barbara Madeloni

Madeloni criticized the plan’s lack of vision and said it seemingly replicates the model the DESE put forth when it placed the Lawrence Public Schools into receivership. It also ignores contributions to the turnaround process from Holyoke residents and educators, she noted.

“The Local Stakeholder Group and the Holyoke Teachers Association provided in-depth recommendations that addressed the social and emotional needs — as well as the academic needs — of children in Holyoke, but that does not come across in this plan,” Madeloni said. “Those recommendations, for example, spoke to the need for dual-language education, culturally relevant curricula and adequate staffing for special education programs.”

Madeloni pointed out that while the LSG report and HTA recommendations advocated for staff and resources in those areas, the turnaround plan acknowledges such needs but remains vague on how to address them. The plan’s intense focus on using test scores will not help Holyoke meet needs in those and other areas, she said.

The other troubling aspect of the plan, she said, is the state’s unwillingness to make a meaningful financial investment in the Holyoke Public Schools.

“Claims that the Holyoke schools receive appropriate funding are outright wrong,” Madeloni said. “The city is unable to provide funding above what the state deems is a bare minimum foundation budget, and the whole foundation budget process is under review because of its longstanding inadequacies.”

Morales likewise found the plan lacking in addressing student needs. The HTA president said it also creates uncertainty for educators working in the district.

“While the plan asks for educator input on the one hand, it dismantles educators’ rights with the other. Removing meaningful bargaining rights and dictating working conditions to teachers will not help keep and attract talented educators,” Morales said.

Morales said that the plan is not much different from previous state interventions in Holyoke, though this time the state has removed local control from the schools.

“For more than 25 years, state officials have been studying and assessing learning conditions in Holyoke and offering anemic or ill-fitting solutions to our schools’ needs,” he said. “This turnaround plan is following in that tradition by not speaking more directly to issues of class size, special education and English language learners.”