Madeloni testifies in opposition to Holyoke takeover

Holyoke Teachers Association member Dorothy Albrecht called the threatened state takeover of Holyoke Public Schools “anti-American” during her testimony before the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education. Holyoke Teachers Association member Dorothy Albrecht called the threatened state takeover of Holyoke Public Schools “anti-American” during her testimony before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

MTA President Barbara Madeloni and Holyoke Teachers Association member Dorothy Albrecht testified in opposition to a threatened state takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education hearing on Tuesday, March 24.

“Putting a school into receivership is a drastic and disruptive action precisely because it undercuts the foundation of public education.”MTA President
Barbara Madeloni

The board reviewed a report on the Holyoke schools prepared by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester told the board that he wants it to vote on whether to place Holyoke schools into receivership at one of its next two monthly meetings, in April or May.

Several people who had tried to sign up to testify were told that speaking slots were already full, even though the board did not exhaust the 30 minutes it routinely sets aside for public comment. When Holyoke School Committee member Erin Brunelle tried to raise a concern about the accuracy of the information the board was hearing from the authors of the district review, BESE Chair Paul Sagan told her she could not speak from the audience.

Testimony by MTA President Barbara Madeloni to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education  on the Holyoke Public Schools

March 24, 2015

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak, and welcome to the board, Chairman Sagan. My name is Barbara Madeloni, and I am president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Since the last meeting I have reviewed the DESE report on the Holyoke Public Schools. What I read tells me that, even by the narrow standards defined by the department, the district is moving in the right direction. Programs are in place and improvements are beginning to take root. Based upon this report, state takeover of the district is not warranted.

Putting a school into receivership is a drastic and disruptive action precisely because it undercuts the foundation of public education, which is that our schools represent and are governed by democratic institutions and processes. History has certainly taught us to beware the leader who claims we will be better off if we give up democratic rights and principles.

In reviewing the DESE report, I find it astonishing that it does not include a picture of the complicated lives of the children of Holyoke, the real efforts being made every day to support children, and the wide disparities in resources between the Holyoke Public Schools and those in wealthier communities. This disparity is real – art classes, field trips, musical instruments, and up-to-date buildings and technology. What the DESE report does not mention, and 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.

In order to understand and respond appropriately to this context, we need to take a new approach. For the past year, the Holyoke Teachers Association has been working closely with the community to identify issues in the district and determine the best strategies for moving forward. Thus, I was troubled and confused by the assertion that the HTA is an obstacle to improving the schools. The HTA and the MTA are continuing to hold member and community forums in which we ask: What are the schools the children of Holyoke deserve and what do we need in order to achieve that vision?

We are still gathering input and will have specific recommendations by April. But here are just a few of the suggestions to give you a flavor of what we’re hearing.

  • Any plan must take into account the economic and racial injustice that pervades the community.
  • Early education and early intervention are a necessity.
  • Teachers need autonomy and to be respected as professionals.
  • We need to reduce class sizes.
  • Stop the endless testing and paperwork. Give us time to know our students and time to teach.

We urge you make sure you understand the full dimension of the conditions that exist in Holyoke before you make any determination about what’s needed in the community. We urge you to join us in listening to educators and parents. If you do, you will understand our passionate advocacy for seeking more resources, focusing on early education, addressing students’ social and emotional needs and working with the community, parents and educators to attack economic and racial injustice in Holyoke. Indeed, we strongly urge you to hold the April BESE meeting in Holyoke at a time when educators, parents and students can attend so that you can hear their voices. Holyoke’s students and educators deserve no less.

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