Madeloni's testimony on Holyoke takeover

MTA President Barbara Madeloni prepared the following testimony to deliver to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on April 28, 2015. The testimony was not delivered, however, after BESE Chairman Paul Sagan announced that there would be no public comment period at the meeting.

Good morning. I hope you all are rested after a long night and an early morning. But what an evening it was. The people of Holyoke – educators, parents and students among them – spoke up and stood strong in saying that they know what their community needs and they are ready to work together for it. The chair began his comments last night by talking about democracy. Surely, what we witnessed last night was democracy in action.

“The public schools need more democracy, not less.”

- MTA President Barbara Madeloni

While I was moved by what we witnessed, I was not surprised. Unlike the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education review team that spent a few days in Holyoke in January, members of the MTA and the Holyoke Teachers Association, along with their community partners, have spent months listening and sharing at forums and in public discussions about the schools Holyoke needs and deserves. So we were not surprised to learn that Holyoke teachers are working to implement the superintendent’s plan and seeing meaningful results, or that the community is so unhappy with the effect of the state takeover on the Dean and Morgan schools.

During our recent forums, educators and parents have made it clear that they want a meaningful voice in the decisions shaping public education in Holyoke. The lack of resources available to Holyoke’s schools and the narrow, test-driven curriculum created in conjunction with state oversight are making the work of reaching Holyoke students more difficult.

In our conversations, we heard that the care and nurturing of human relationships must be at the center of our work; that educators need autonomy and respect; that parents, students and educators are ready to work together; that cultural and linguistic diversity must be respected; and that curriculum should speak to the strengths and experiences of the community. We know from these discussions that we need smaller classes; more art, music and physical education; and the time to build the relationships that ground teaching and learning.

Families, students and educators have made important strides toward better understanding and respecting each other’s positions and trusting one another. They are organized in the pursuit of common goals and worthy objectives.

Indeed, the HTA and the union’s community partners have done something that has never before been done before in Holyoke: They have brought educators, families, students and the larger community together in a democratic process to create a vision for Holyoke Public Schools, and they have begun the work of building that vision.

A top-down style of leadership with a small, prescribed group of stakeholders is precisely what Holyoke does not need. The public schools need more democracy, not less.

You can show your concern for the students and community of Holyoke by deepening the democratic process, listening to the words of community members – shared with such clarity and wisdom last night — and rejecting the takeover.

I urge you to support real change by helping Holyoke continue the work of implementing the authentic vision of schools offered by the community. I ask you to reject receivership and instead give this community the resources it needs and the freedom to provide the schools Holyoke students deserve.

Thank you.

#ReclaimHolyoke supporters turn out for BESE hearing