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Officials say Holyoke schools' turnover statistics don’t tell the whole story

Date: 8/7/2015

HOLYOKE – While connections have been made between the state’s decision to put Holyoke Public Schools in receivership and the loss of more than 100 educational staff, officials say that’s not necessarily the case.

According to information provided by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education [DESE] Office of District and School Turnaround, “the number of non-renewals and terminations [at the end of the 2014-15 school year] is less than the 124 teachers non-renewed or terminated last year [2013-14] in Holyoke.”

Holyoke declined to renew the contracts of 54 teachers without professional status, which is achieved by teaching in the district for three consecutive years. In addition, the district released another 20 teachers who had one-year, non-renewable waivers. Those teachers were aware they would not rehired if they did not achieve necessary certification by May 15.

Additional teachers were lost due to “voluntary resignations or retirements, some of which were planned prior to the state’s decision to take over the schools."

Termination proceedings took place for only four professional status teachers.

Staffing decisions are made at the school level. The outgoing Holyoke Superintendent Segio Paez reviewed and approved the principals’ decisions with authorization from DESE Commissioner Mitchell Chester, who served as interim receiver until Dr. Stephen Zrike was appointed receiver.

Katie Moran, director of Talent and Professional Development for Holyoke Public Schools did admit that while not unheard of, the amount of turnover was a bit higher than normal.

“It’s not abnormal for an urban district to see higher turnover rates, but 100 was a particularly high number for us,” she said.

Moran said some of the voluntary departures may have been due to the state takeover, but stressed the DESE and the district have been active in keeping current staff in the loop and comfortable with the transition.

“There is certainly a lot of trepidation and uncertainty with receivership,” she said. “Dr. Zrike has been really good about interacting with staff to allay fears they might have and reinforce the message that this is a good thing for the district.”

The district also hopes to fill many of the vacated positions by the start of school at the end of the month.

As of the beginning of August, the district roughly 55 posted openings for support staff, full-time teachers, paraprofessionals and tutors. In order to garner interest in the positions and the schools, the district hosted a career fair on July 23 at Holyoke High School.

“We’ve never done a career fair in Holyoke before to my knowledge,” Moran said. “It’s something we will continue to do and expect to have another in the early spring.”

The event drew more than 70 interested teachers and paraprofessionals, who were able to talk with officials about the openings and apply on site if they chose to.

“It was an opportunity to build our applicant pools,” Moran said. “It’s good to have people in the pipeline.”

She added the district’s philosophy on hiring was “the earlier, the better.”

Moran explained in getting positions filled expeditiously, the district could properly prepare new teachers by aligning them with mentors in their schools.

“The law says anybody new to the profession gets a mentor and second year teachers receive 50 hours of support,” she said.

Teachers that are new to the district, but not to teaching, also receive support to assist with the transition through a program developed in concert with the DESE.

“It’s a really positive thing. We have a comprehensive introduction program,” Moran said, further explaining the transition can be a culture shock, especially to teachers moving into an urban district from suburban or rural areas.

“We piloted the program last year and the response was very strong,” she said. “The teachers said they felt supported.”