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Morse to make schools his priority

Date: 3/29/2011

March 30, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE — In politics, like other aspects of life, timing can be everything. Although Holyoke mayoral candidate Alex Morse had scheduled a press event to outline his education plan a week in advance, his announcement was the same day as a written response was released by School Superintendent David Dupont on the possibility of the state taking over the management of the Holyoke schools.

Morse said the top priority in his campaign would be to transform the Holyoke schools "into the top district in the state." He asserted that only when the schools are better serving the needs of the students could employment opportunities and public safety improve.

Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester said last week the state is considering taking over the schools of Holyoke and Fall River in the next year unless there is significant improvement. Chester told the Boston Globe the move would be a last resort measure.

Morse made his comments on the sidewalk outside of the Morgan Elementary School, which he attended. The school is now designated a "Level Four" school, which means it has performed poorly on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test in both the Math and English Language Arts sections over a four-year span and hasn't shown signs of substantial improvement.

The other Level Four school is Dean Vocational High School.

In his statement, Dupont wrote, "We make no excuses for our kids with regards to our achievement issues relative to poverty, homelessness and transiency; we provide explanation and we move on to prepare them for successful futures. Finances matter and we cannot be expected to meet state expectation regarding our Level Four schools based on the funding that we received to help these schools."

For Morse, though, money isn't the only answer. He charged that Holyoke spends more money for each student per capita than any other community, "but we can't seem to get the job done."

He said that if elected he would pursue grants and other funding sources, but only if those funds support the educational goals of the city.

"It's more important now than ever before that we get the job done," he said.

Morse said that his education plan includes creating a core curriculum in the city so that every student at every elementary school gets the same education.

He would expand the vocational programs at Dean to include green technology and would create partnerships with trade union, the Latino Chamber of Commerce and small businesses to provide greater opportunities for students.

Morse said his plan to create parent information centers in every school wouldn't cost the city any additional money, as they would be staffed with volunteers.

He wants greater teacher accountability and would work with the teachers' union to develop an evaluation process that would reward effective teachers.

Working with area colleges, Morse hopes to set up agreements for loan forgiveness for Holyoke residents who graduate from participating schools and agree to come back to Holyoke to work for five years.

Morse called for the blaming of parents and teachers in the failure of the educational system to end.

"We must come together as a community," he said.

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