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Turnaround plan for Holyoke schools released

Calls for longer day, individualized attention

Holyoke’s public schools will extend learning time for kindergarten through eighth grade and seek to develop personalized college or career plans for students in upper grades, under a turnaround plan released by the district’s state-appointed receiver Thursday.

Stephen K. Zrike Jr., who took the reins of Holyoke’s schools in July, pledged to improve teaching quality and develop individualized support for all students in the long-struggling district, where many students come from low-income families and are not native English speakers.

Zrike developed the plan with recommendations from a panel of local educators, parents, and community leaders, who met five times to develop a list of proposed improvements.


“I appreciate all the insight that people have shared, and I look forward to working with the entire community to build upon the district’s strengths and implement this plan on behalf of Holyoke students,” Zrike said in a statement.

Teachers unions were critical of the plan, which announces Zrike’s intention to create a new compensation system, asserts his authority to lay off and to reassign teachers, and gives principals the authority to fill teaching positions without considering seniority.

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

Mitchell D. Chester, state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, announced Zrike’s appointment in June. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted in April to designate Holyoke schools “chronically underperforming” and place them into receivership.

As receiver, Zrike replaced the district’s superintendent and its School Committee and received broad powers to make changes.

In the turnaround plan, and in an interview with the Globe in August, Zrike pledged that those changes would build upon programs and policies that already are successful. The plan includes efforts to better engage Holyoke families and to restructure the district’s central office to focus on student success.


The plan calls for a particular focus on Holyoke’s lowest-performing schools: Morgan Full Service Community School, which has been designated “chronically underperforming;” William J. Dean Vocational Technical High School, which has been designated both low-achieving and least-improving; and other schools in danger of falling into those categories.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.