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I-Team: Are Holyoke public schools making the grade while under receivership?

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HOLYOKE, Mass (WWLP) – If your child attends school in Holyoke, their likelihood of graduating is dramatically lower than neighboring districts. 

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took control of Holyoke public schools in April of 2015. The agency’s goal is to improve test scores and graduation rates. Four years later, the 22News I-Team wanted to know if they’re seeing any results and how long Holyoke will remain in receivership. 

10 years ago, just under half of Holyoke students graduated, a trend that persisted for years. The district also underperformed in state test scores, attendance, and discipline. 

Receiver and Superintendent, Dr. Stephen Zrike said Holyoke’s numbers were so alarming, the state made the rare decision to place the district in receivership, citing “chronic underperformance.” 

“Providing additional resources and support that not only will there be an improvement in performance, but there will be structures and systems put in place that will allow the school district to thrive.”

Dr. Stephen Zrike

Holyoke is seeing some solid improvement. Holyoke’s graduation rate jumped 20 percent last year, but it still lags its neighbor cities.  

The 22News I-Team researched the numbers. We compared Chicopee, Springfield, and Holyoke graduation rates from 2018, the latest numbers available. Chicopee’s graduation rate ranked highest at 81-percent. Springfield’s graduation rate sits at 77-percent. And Holyoke lags behind with a 72-percent graduation rate.  

“Our schools needed to adjust to a shift in population in the last decade-plus. Some of that is around language,” Dr. Zrike said. 

Nearly 80-percent of the school population is LatinX. Zrike said English is a second language for many students. To help them succeed, the district implemented a variety of new programs that tailor education for individual students. 

With those improvements in place, we wanted to know how long Holyoke would remain in receivership. The 22News I-Team traveled to eastern Massachusetts, where we spoke with Russell Johnston, senior associate commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

“There isn’t an exact amount of time, but it will be until we will be when we have great confidence that the types of changes will last long into the future,” Russell Johnston said. 

Russell said his agency looks at a variety of indicators when determining how long receivership will last. He wouldn’t speculate on an end date. 

“Student outcome data, including student achievement, but also graduation rate, attendance, discipline,” Russell said.  “We’re also looking to see how well the district’s systems are functioning.” 

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