Elementary/Middle School Redesign

Frequently Asked Questions: You may be wondering

Q: What is the future grade configuration at HPS?

Elementary schools will be PreK-5 or K-5, depending on space available. Middle schools will be grades 6-8.

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Q: When will HPS move to a distinct elementary (PreK-5) and middle school (6-8) model?

Some changes were made for fall 2022, but most changes will happen in fall 2023.  If Holyoke is able to build a new middle school, some changes will happen then too.

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Q: What changes are happening for fall 2022?

  • Kelly, Morgan and Donahue will serve grades preK-5.
  • Holyoke Middle will serve grades 6-8. 
  • Metcalf will serve grades preK-8.
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Q: What changes are happening for fall 2023?

HPS will redistrict and rezone the PreK-8 portfolio for fall 2023. In order to do this well, HPS will engage in extensive community discussions and analysis, with the support of expert consultants, to decide which: 

  • Schools will be elementary schools vs. middle schools;
  • Programs will be at which schools;
  • Schools would close, if any; and
  • Students attend which schools.

This will require redrawing current zone lines. We also commit to ensuring that the changes made will work with or without a new middle school building, tentatively scheduled to be built in fall 2026. Moving students and redrawing zone lines is a difficult conversation for any community, and we want to make sure that the plan we put into effect in fall 2023 will work in Fall 2026. Beginning next month, we will publicize opportunities for you to be involved in this important discussion.

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Q: When will the changes for fall 2023 be announced?

Everything will be announced by the end of November 2022. Information will be announced in two segments:

  • By the end of October: which schools are elementary vs. middle schools in 2023 and 2026, the school leader of each school in 2023, the location of dual language programming, and the process for staff reassignment.
  • By the end of November: the exact boundary lines, the location of special education programming, the process by which any displaced students will be assigned to a specific program (ABL/SIP if at more than one elementary school, dual language if at only two elementary schools).
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Q: How can students, families, staff and community members have input on changes?

Superintendent Anthony Soto seeks an inclusive process. There are many ways to learn more and have input:

  • Serve on the Rezoning Working Group that will develop the rezoning scenarios
  • Serve on the Rezoning Task Force that will give feedback on the rezoning scenarios (has met twice already; the next meeting is Mon, September 12 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m.)
  • Attend a family/community meeting this fall.
    • Wednesday, September 14, 5 p.m.: Family and Community meeting at Kelly
      • Supervised, fun, free activities for children available so parents/guardians can attend the meeting. Food is also available.
    • Wednesday, September 21, 9 a.m.: Virtual Family and Community meeting
    • Thursday, September 29, 5:30 p.m.: Family and Community meeting at Holyoke High
      • Supervised, fun, free activities for children available so parents/guardians can attend the meeting. Food will also be provided.
  • Tuesday, October 11, 5:30 p.m.: Virtual Family and Community meeting/District Parent Advisory Group meeting
  • Look for an HPS table at various community events 
  • Take a 3-minutes survey to share your opinion. The survey is available on our webpage and is open from Aug 19 – Oct. 13. 
  • Visit our website: https://www.hps.holyoke.ma.us/msredesign/ or https://www.hps.holyoke.ma.us/proposed-new-middle-school/
  • Email us at communications@hps.holyoke.ma.us  
  • Watch this 9-minute video to learn about the history of the project and where we’re at today

We will publicize opportunities for input through our weekly newsletter (the Holyoke Update), on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and on our website.

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Q: Will staff members keep their jobs through these changes?

Short answer: YES!!! 

Long answer: Our Holyoke educators and staff members are committed to our students and families, and therefore, we are committed to them. Every staff member in good standing with the district will continue to have a job—and a home—at HPS, even as these changes are made. We will communicate directly with any staff members who are impacted and work collaboratively with them to find a fit in a new school, if they are displaced from their current position.

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Q. Is HPS continuing with dual language programming in elementary and middle school? Where will they be located?

Yes, HPS is committed to dual language programming in elementary and middle school. In fact, as students currently in the dual language programs at E.N. White and Kelly continue to grow older and go to middle school (along with Metcalf students), we will have more students in the dual language program in middle school, which will allow us to offer a more robust middle school experience for them. Our community discussions this year will include conversation on where elementary and middle school dual language programming will be located, with decisions made by November 2022 that would go into effect in Fall 2023. We are committed to offering dual language programming in different parts of the city for elementary school and at least one of two middle schools.

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Q: Is Holyoke pursuing a new middle school?

 Yes, Holyoke is trying to build a new middle school. We are working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and City Council, both of which help pay for the building. There are many steps to the process, and the earliest a new school would be ready to open is Fall 2026. To learn more about this project, visit the website.

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Q. When might a new middle school be built?

We estimate fall 2026 at the earliest.

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Q: Which schools are being considered as middle schools?

Of the existing school building portfolio, the building best designed for middle school students is Peck, even though the Peck building itself is too large, outdated and not designed well. Therefore, the City of Holyoke and HPS have been working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to hopefully build a new middle school building at the same location by 2026. This requires funding approval from both the City of Holyoke and MSBA. Either way, HPS is committed to having one of the two middle schools be Peck, whether it’s the current building or a new building.

The next best buildings to be considered as middle schools are Donahue, Kelly and Sullivan. Each building has the same number of traditional size classrooms (33), so they would fit the expected enrollment (500-550 students) well. 

Read this document to learn more about the similarities and differences of the buildings themselves and some of the pros and cons to the actual location of each building. 

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Q. Why is HPS moving to a distinct elementary and middle school model and rezoning the schools?

Primary Challenges

  • Our students are not as well prepared as they should be. Holyoke lacks an elementary and middle school experience that prepares students for success in high school and beyond.
  • Our schools can be better aligned. The HPS portfolio of school buildings is not aligned with enrollment and educational programming. Across our facilities, enrollment is unequally distributed and grade configurations are greatly varied, resulting in less effective staffing models and student/staff supports.
  • A lack of equity. Select schools serve a student population with the greatest concentration of need. Programming in other schools doesn’t reflect the district’s demographics. 
  • A lack of financial sustainability. Many of our schools are too small for efficient operations, which further strains limited resources. Investments are not always sustained, so it’s difficult for schools to predict what programs and supports their students and teachers will have over time.

Future Vision. These changes are essential steps to ensure that all of our schools are: 

  • Focused on Preparing Students. A robust elementary or middle school experience must have high quality learning experiences, be focused on students’ developmental age and be appropriately resourced to ensure student success. 
  • Aligned. Enrollment and educational programming must be strategically placed within the physical footprint of our school buildings, so that we can provide appropriate and effective support to improve students’ learning. 
  • Equitable. Students and schools must have equitable access to resources and opportunities on our path to becoming an anti-racist and culturally responsive district.   

Financially Sustainable. Resources must be spent wisely, maximizing dollars dedicated to student learning and support, and investments must be sustained over time.

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Q: What are the benefits of distinct elementary and middle schools for the entire system?

There are a wide range of benefits to reconfiguring our schools and bringing new schools online. 

Across the system

  • By closing one or more school buildings that are outdated, expensive to operate and/or managerially difficult to run, we can allocate resources elsewhere across the system. By no longer using schools that are poorly suited to 21st century learning, HPS can reduce operating costs and use available funding more effectively to improve education. 
  • Students can be anchored in their neighborhood schools, or they can participate in strongly differentiated educational programs that serve students across neighborhood lines.
  • Schools will be organized into a limited number of grade configurations that enable rich student learning experiences at all levels, while minimizing the number of student transitions.
  • The system will be designed for equity in meeting student needs, providing access to quality programs, and distributing resources to provide a foundation for developing all of our schools.

For our youngest learners

  • Neighborhood-based PreK programs will be available in most elementary schools based on space available. By moving away from a designated PreK Center (as was a part of the original plan in 2017), our early-learning programs will be more accessible to families and transportation will be less of a barrier.  It also gives students and families an opportunity to know and connect with their child’s future elementary school, creating a long-lasting relationship between school, family and child. PreK and kindergarten teachers can also collaborate to ensure that PreK students are prepared for kindergarten.  
  • Some speciality PreK programs for students with specific diagnoses on their individual education plans (IEPs) will be concentrated in one or two schools to promote opportunities for inclusion and specialized training for teachers.  

For elementary-age students

  • Many of our current K-8 buildings were designed for elementary-age students. We have adapted these schools to also meet the needs of older students and also to serve more students than they were originally designed to educate. Elementary schools designed to be elementary schools better fit the physical size and educational needs of young learners. Designated elementary schools also allow school leaders to focus on the academic and developmental needs of these grade levels.
  • Under this model, we can expand from offering two classrooms per grade level at each school to offering three classrooms—and possibly four—which would:
    • Provide more classroom options for students and greater differentiation opportunities to meet students’ individual needs;
    • Expand access to specials and enrichment programming (such as art, music, STEM, physical education); 
    • Promote stronger collaboration between grade-level teachers, special education, and English language teachers; and
    • Allow special education and English language teachers to focus on fewer grade levels, which will allow them to better understand the content, standards and students better while also providing more opportunities for inclusion learning.
  • We will regain some of the space needed for specials and extracurricular programs (such as art, music, and gym) that may have been lost in more crowded schools. We can also hire a greater variety of teachers who can offer these programs.  

For middle-school age students

  • We will be able to offer a school design with programs tailored to the developmental ages of students in grades 6-8, including spaces for collaboration and enrichment.
  • Middle school students will learn in physical spaces designed for their physical sizes and that meet their educational needs (e.g. science labs).  
  • Each middle school would ideally serve around 550 students each, allowing enough space and resources to provide a robust middle school experience—such as variety in special offerings, more access to advanced coursework, content-based teacher collaboration, etc.—without compromising personalization, strong relationships and student safety.  
  • We can also offer personalized pathways to career or college readiness, including exposure to multiple pathways that lead to more defined pathways at the high school level.

In addition, if HPS builds a new middle school using the previously developed design, we will also be able to offer a new school: 

  • With varied room sizes to provide higher quality special education and intervention support services in close proximity to students’ primary classrooms;
  • Designed to welcome and support families; 
  • With public spaces and building system—including air conditioning—that can support teaching in all seasons, a broader range of evening and community uses, and non-traditional pathways; and
  • Designated spaces to meet a wide range of needs and uses, including a STEM (design) lab, a dedicated art room with kiln, an exercise/dance studio, a cafeteria with stage, a media/instructional technology center, a music classroom, a learning commons (flexible presentation) space, teacher collaboration spaces, and protected outdoor teaching spaces.

Unfortunately, we cannot construct two new middle schools at this time. That means, half of our middle school students will be learning in an existing school. To ensure we provide an equitable educational experience for all, we pledge to work with our school community and our city leaders to improve the facilities at the existing school and update and expand the curriculum so they are equivalent in both schools.

For high-school age students

  • Under our current model, one of our middle schools—Holyoke STEM Academy for students in grades 6-8—is co-located on the Holyoke High School Dean Campus. This arrangement worked well when there was less student demand for Dean’s programs. However, the number of students enrolled at Dean has grown dramatically in the past four years, with an additional 100-110 students now enrolled and a waiting list of 40 students this year. We can accommodate this additional enrollment at Dean by eventually relocating the STEM program to another HPS school that can be tailored to meet the needs of the STEM program.
  • Our middle school students will be able to enter high school better prepared for more rigorous coursework under the new model. For example, more of our high school students will be able to access advanced coursework in mathematics if they have taken algebra in 8th grade. This is more feasible if all students in grades 6-8 are learning in two middle school buildings, rather than our current design that has 8th graders learning in five different schools.

For the community

  • A new school will include spaces for community use, including for example a gym and athletic fields.
  • The visible investment in Holyoke schools is a signal to both prospective and current residents that the city prioritizes education for all students, now and in the future.
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Q. How did HPS arrive at this decision?

HPS has been studying its school building portfolio and grade configurations for a number of years. In 2016, HPS received support and assistance from the MSBA to hire STV Inc. to conduct a facility audit of our school buildings. HPS also hired Education Resource Strategies (ERS) to help the district develop a series of options for the future reimagining of the HPS portfolio. 

This process has included extensive community engagement. We met with all elementary and middle school teams, hosted four community sessions, reviewed more than 200 survey responses, analyzed school culture and climate survey results from all stakeholder groups, reviewed facilities reports on the quality of our school buildings, and considered more than 20 possible school reconfiguration scenarios. This work identified the following top priorities:

  • Reconfiguring schools into three distinct categories: PreK-5 elementary schools (K-5 in smaller schools with space constraints), grade 6-8 middle schools, and grade 9-12 high schools;
  • Closing the schools with the lowest facilities review scores;
  • Ensuring equity of access and resources;
  • Designating a PreK center to provide specialized resources for early learning and to allow for more preschool enrollments; 
  • Ensuring middle schools are a “best fit” size—large enough to allow for meaningful teacher collaboration and a uniquely “middle school” student experience, yet small enough to promote strong relationships;
  • Continuing to expand unique programs, such as the dual language program, and offer new innovative pathway programs; and
  • Planning for structural and financial sustainability.

 All these priorities have been incorporated in this new elementary and middle school structure, with one exception. We do not plan to offer a designated PreK center, since neighborhood PreK programs are easier for families to access. There is also less emphasis on innovative pathway programs, but rather offering a robust experience to all students.

In 2021, HPS established a middle school collaborative study team (MGCST) to study best practices in middle school, analyze Holyoke data, and seek input from more than 500 stakeholders. The MGCST then developed a series of recommendations that have been presented to a dozen groups, including parents and members of the Holyoke School Committee. Most stakeholders who heard these recommendations said they prefer elementary schools as PreK/K-5 and middle schools as grades 6-8. A recording of the presentation can be found on the HPS website.

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Q: Where can I find more information?

Refer to the Elementary/Middle School Redesign section of the HPS website for more information and regular updates.

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