The redesigned high school experience at Holyoke Public Schools

The redesigned high school experience at Holyoke Public Schools

October 5, 2016


Judy Taylor, Communications Director

(413) 493-1605,



The redesigned high school experience at Holyoke Public Schools


HOLYOKE, MA – Governor Charlie Baker, Education Secretary Jim Peyser, and Department of Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago joined Holyoke Public Schools Receiver Dr. Stephen Zrike, Jr., for a tour of Holyoke High School yesterday, to highlight the progress made over the past year while the district has been in receivership.  During the tour, Governor Baker treated ninth grade students to an impromptu electoral college mini lesson.


Following the tour, students from both high schools had the opportunity to share their high school experiences with officials during a roundtable discussion (see below for student quotes).  “Students shared their experiences which have overall been positive,” stated Governor Baker.  “They mostly discussed the dual enrollment program that has given many students an opportunity to get a head start on college.  It gives them a sense of what kids in college are like, what a college level class is like and, gives them an opportunity to think a little bit about college as a place where they might choose to go.  They feel that the school system has made a lot of progress over the course of the past couple of years and they feel really positive about the direction of the school system.”


The high school experience at Holyoke Public Schools is being redesigned, to ensure that every student in grades 6-12 has a high-quality educational option, with a focus on college and careers for all students.  At the core of the district’s turnaround plan is the firm belief that all Holyoke students deserve a world‐class education.  The plan includes strategies for improving the instruction and services offered, and providing students with the skills and tools they need to be successful in school now, and later in college and their careers.


“The district’s turnaround plan serves as a tool that guides district strategy of designing a unique pathway for every student where they can access grade-level standards, experience powerful teaching and be regularly monitored for progress, ” stated Dr. Zrike.   A pathway is defined by the Holyoke Public Schools, as a student-informed learning trajectory that provides students with a competitive advantage resulting in college and/or career success.  The Holyoke Public Schools celebrates the individuality of every student and realizes that students do best when they pursue their passions and are trusted to select their pathway.


Based upon feedback of community stakeholders, Holyoke Public Schools began early implementation of key initiatives in Fall 2016.  These select initiatives fall within HPS strategic priorities, with a particular focus on personalized pathways and an effective and thriving workforce:


This year, all ninth graders attend Holyoke High School, and Dean Technical High School became a school serving students in grades 10-12. More than half of the freshmen at Holyoke High are taking an exploratory course at Dean that introduces them to a variety of career pathways, including health sciences, manufacturing, culinary arts, cosmetology, technology, construction, and automotive. The goal is to ensure that every student has rigorous academic preparation, while also offering exposure to career and technical education for students interested in those pathways.  The two high schools are sharing department heads across both campuses, aligning schedules and standards, and creating crossover opportunities for students to participate at each high school through classes, sports and other extra-curricular programs.


Students participating in dual enrollment offerings have increased at Holyoke Public Schools.  This refers to a college course a student takes at a participating college for credit at the high school AND the college.  In Fall 2016, 70 students from Holyoke High and 12 students from Dean Technical are earning college credit through dual enrollment with University of Massachusetts Amherst and Holyoke Community College (HCC).  This is an increase from 2 students in Fall 2015 and 19 students in Spring 2016.


The Barr Foundation has awarded a $300,000 grant to support Holyoke Public Schools’ efforts to engage stakeholders in identifying, piloting and building sustainable secondary school models to challenge current practice and transform the high school experience, resulting in complementary, competitive and 21st Century learning pathways for all students.  The next phase of the high school redesign is being led by an HPS high school redesign Innovation Team, consisting of 12 members – educators, parents, community members, and two students from each high school – that will steer the learning and systemic recommendations from research into practice throughout the term of this grant.  The team is visiting other institutions to observe new instructional approaches/models (such as the blended learning model that is used at Intrinsic Schools and Summit Public Schools), pathways, and content to create learning trajectories (for example STEM, ethnic studies, computer science, etc.).  Exploration of new secondary models is the key strategy for sparking change, improvement and new ways of teaching and learning.  Part of the Holyoke Public Schools secondary redesign work also includes early college expansion and the Gateway to College Program at Holyoke Community College.


For video coverage of this event, visit our district Facebook page:


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