Each school has a system of supports ensuring that students access grade-level standards and tasks, experience powerful teaching, have their learning progress monitored and are provided with multiple pathways to success. All students are provided a robust curriculum that includes rigorous instruction in core subjects and enrichment opportunities in the arts, music, physical education and more.
Students engage in relevant and meaningful learning, targeted to their needs and interests and have multiple opportunities for success. Students have a personalized approach to their education affording them the opportunity to graduate with an additional credential that provides for college and career options. Students have a variety of customized opportunities during the traditional school day and beyond, including tailored intervention, enrichment, advanced coursework, career and technical education, and dual-enrollment credit.
- Dramatically increasing graduation rate and declining drop-out rate. We are extremely encouraged by and proud of our students for graduating at a dramatically higher rate. The district’s graduation rate is 69.9%, up 7.8 percentage points from the prior year – the highest on record. Wm. J. Dean Technical High School (Dean) achieved an incredible 19.1 percentage point increase in its graduation rate to 59.1%, and Holyoke High School’s rate increased 6.5 percentage points to 75.4%. Latino students’ graduation rate is 10 points higher than last year. On a similar note, the district’s average dropout rate for the past 10 years has been nearly 10%. Over the last two years, the dropout rate has been almost cut in half, averaging 5.6%. This reduction means over 100 fewer students per year have dropped out of school.
- Increasing student performance in Reading and Mathematics. Although the 2018 MCAS results are not yet available, we utilize Star assessments to monitor reading and math achievement levels and to help inform instruction based on areas of critical need. Students are assessed beginning, middle, and end of the year to monitor growth. STAR tests are nationally representative and are aligned with state standards, which allows us to gauge how our students are performing compared to similar cohorts of students across the country. Since the beginning of the year (BOY), the percent of students scoring at or above the 50th percentile:
- 29-point increase in Kindergarten and 1st-grade students in Early Literacy
- 5-point increase in Grades 2-8 in Reading, with the biggest leaps in grades 2 and 3
- 6-point increase in Grades 2-8 in Math, with the biggest leaps in grades 2 and 4
- Creating a pathway for every student through high school redesign. This year, we launched Newcomer Academy, which served 61 students who were new to the continental U.S. and the English language and continued with Freshman Academy and Opportunity Academy, for students in need of an alternative path to graduation. In June 2018, we hosted a Signing Day Celebration, where the rising 10th-grade students signed a letter of intent to join one of four theme-based linked-learning academies designed to prepare them to acquire 21st-century skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication. They will be the first class to participate in the redesigned experience, which launches next Fall. Many students continue to have increased opportunities through dual enrollment (110+ students) and early college; we are especially excited that we received a state designation for our early college partnership with Holyoke Community College.
- Pursuing new middle school buildings and announcing the opening of two new middle schools. In 2016-17, the district performed an analysis of the PreK-8 portfolio of schools, and the community overwhelmingly favors separate elementary and middle schools. As such, we are working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and the City of Holyoke to pursue the building of two new middle schools, which would hold 500-550 students each. In Winter 2018, we announced the opening of two new middle school options for August 2018. Veritas Prep Holyoke will be run by an in-district operator (which currently runs one of the state’s highest performing schools in Springfield), opening with 130 5th grade students and expanding by a grade per year to eventually serve ~560 students in grades 5-8. Holyoke STEM Academy will serve 6th-8th-grade students. It will open with ~265 students and can expand to serve ~300 students by Fall 2019. The STEM-theme was selected based on community interest and alignment to the high school linked learning academies.
- Expanding preschool access and quality. Nearly 100 more preschool students (a 30% increase over last year) are being served than last year, and two Pre-K programs (through a partnership with Valley Opportunity Council) received the highest quality Pre-K rating by the MA Department of Early Education and Care! There remain 150 students without a Pre-K slot currently in Holyoke, and if we can secure funding from the state, our partner is ready to open additional Pre-K seats.
- Completing an inventory of existing curriculum resources and providing guidance for the scope, sequence and pacing for common curricular resources. Teachers need standards-aligned resources and materials, with explicit pacing guidance and intended scope and sequence expectations, available to support their students’ learning. Towards this end, we have completed the inventory, which includes Expeditionary Learning Resources for grades 3-8, Math in Focus for grades K-8, Fundations for grades K-2, and Ethnic studies for grades 7-10. We are adopting a writing curriculum for grades K-8 and science for 5-8 next year, new units of study aligned to the career academies, and new intervention resources across all grade levels.
- Increasing opportunities for students in substantially separate programs to participate in effective inclusion opportunities. Research shows that inclusive education creates an environment in which every student, including those who do not have disabilities, has the opportunity to flourish. Inclusive educational environments have increased differentiation, which leads to increased student engagement, and more academic and behavioral supports for all students. Itinerant service providers, such as speech therapists, are continuously moving therapy services from more restrictive settings to more inclusive settings – we have tripled the time students spend in more inclusive settings. This has enabled more consistent and productive collaboration with teachers and other members of the multi-disciplinary team. We continue to develop plans and train teachers for greater inclusionary opportunities next school year.
- Creating safe and productive learning spaces for all students. Students support teams meet regularly to discuss the academic and behavioral needs and interventions for students in need of additional supports. We’ve also invested in training on trauma-informed practices and building resilience in youth for all counselors, psychologists, related service providers and the educational staff in our elementary and middle school Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP). This month, after two years of monitoring, the Disability Law Center is releasing Holyoke Public Schools from the DLC’s oversight following concerns related to the operation of the TIP Program at Peck. This is a testimony to the resilience, persistence and very hard work of teachers, paraprofessionals, school leaders and district special education leadership to support the development of some of our most at-risk students.
- Building a culture of academic success and belief in oneself among students. In this year’s Panorama Culture and Climate survey, we had increases in the percent of students reporting:
- Most students in their classes try hard to get good grades (41% to 46% favorable)
- Students are able to get the help they need to be successful at school (61% to 64% favorable)
- Their classes really make them think (52% to 59% favorable)
- It’s possible to change behavior by giving a lot of effort (8-pt increase for 3rd-5th graders)
- It’s possible to change your intelligence by giving a lot of effort (10-pt increase for 6th-12th graders)
Family and Community Engagement
Families and community members are essential partners in our shared success. When we effectively partner with families, particularly those who have not historically been engaged, we create an essential support network to address our students’ needs and create opportunities for a strengthened community. We want to be families’ first choice for their child(ren)’s education.
- Welcoming more than 250 students who were displaced after the hurricane from Puerto Rico – Our staff and students quickly enrolled and welcomed students into classrooms. We were responsive to their clothing and shelter needs whenever possible, as well as striving to meet their social-emotional and academic needs. We are very proud of the urgency and warmth displayed by our team, from the enrollment center to schools to classrooms.
- Strengthening systems around attendance – We have reduced chronic absenteeism from 29% last year to 22% this year for our students in grades K-12th through an attendance awareness campaign and supporting and monitoring school’s attendance efforts. These efforts have also helped contribute to a boost in attendance of 92.6% (up from 91.6%) for students in Kindergarten-grade 12. We thank our parents, families, community organizations and staff for working together to ensure our students are at school, ready to learn.
- Hosting monthly meetings of the Parent Advisory Group, with 10 out of 11 schools regularly participating. We solicit input and insight on a range of topics, including MCAS, school safety, middle school redesign and high school redesign. Strong parent leaders push us to be a better school system on behalf of all students.
- Hosting two Parent Summit events, where about 60 families in total gathered to learn about how to support their child(ren)’s learning at home. The Saturday session in November consisted of 11 workshops across a variety of topic areas, and the Thursday evening session in April focused on ways for families to support their child(ren)’s learning in mathematics. Another 15 families of students in grades 2-4 from Morgan, Peck, Lawrence and Donahue all completed Family Book Clubs, where they read picture books about diversity.
- Engaging families in students’ progress – Family and engagement team members at 8 of 11 schools are meeting with at least 10 families each to discuss the academic progress of struggling students. When talking with these families, our team will connect them to summer learning opportunities within Holyoke and/or provide resources for continuing learning over the summer. They will also gauge their interest in having their child’s new teacher for next fall make a home visit over the summer or in the fall.
- Continuing to create a welcoming and supportive environment for families – Our culture and climate survey indicates that families are feeling supported and welcomed. In the 2018 survey, 78% of families reported they receive timely responses to school inquiries, and 86% feel welcome when visiting their child’s school. Our students and families also notice and appreciate the presence of our teachers and staff at many community events, ranging from the Puerto Rican Parade to the elementary Spelling Bee to the Rising Stars event celebrating awesome students to graduation events.
Through improved recruitment, evaluations, professional development and recognition programs, the District will fill every classroom and office with talented professionals whose gifts and commitment will benefit our children every day. We must work together to increase the quality and diversity of our educator workforce, while elevating the profession of teaching and raising the morale of our teachers and staff. It is our responsibility to create a work environment that is challenging, rewarding and culturally competent.
- Building and developing career development pipelines. We want staff members to realize their growth potential and see the opportunities available to them within Holyoke Public Schools. We have more than 8 pipeline programs for staff, ranging from an aspiring principals’ program for HPS educators who are interested in getting their administrator’s license to Urban Teachers Pathways (UTP), for paraprofessionals with a bachelor’s degree who are interested in getting their teaching license in a high needs area. Through our partnership with Teach Western Mass and The New Teacher Project (TNTP), the western MA region was awarded a $5 million federal grant to offer a new accelerated teacher pathway that targets hard-to-fill teaching positions. We also project to have 11 Advanced Teachers, who are exceptional educators serving as school-wide models of instructional excellence and magnify their impact by assuming additional leadership responsibilities determined by each school. We are also introducing the Master Teacher role, which will allow a teacher to remain in the classroom while leading an impactful districtwide project.
- Investing in our school leaders as turnaround leaders. We believe that our schools are the center of substantive and transformative change for children, and we know we must build and sustain a system in which empowered school leaders and their teams possess the leadership acumen to create learning environments that deliver on our promise of a pathway of excellence for every student. Accordingly, we partnered with an organization that trains high-capacity individuals to take on the demanding and urgent work of leading excellent schools. The training focuses on developing a strong leadership voice; aligning entire school teams around the mission, vision, values and goals of the school; and developing non-academic and academic systems that lead to schools of excellence.
- Continuing to strengthen evaluation systems and ensure that educators receive frequent coaching. We know that frequent feedback supports teachers in developing their craft as education professionals and ultimately contributes to increased student learning. 79% of teachers report receiving feedback on their teaching at least a few times a month – and 83% of teachers report that the feedback is somewhat, quite or extremely useful.
- Coaching and on-boarding new staff members. We know the demands of teaching are significant, and we must support our new educators in being as effective as possible on Day 1. Accordingly, 41 new teachers participated in an induction program for two weeks in the summer, where they created routines to ensure a strong first day, role-played lessons in front of peers, and built a community of support. We continued to support them – and other new educators to the district – through frequent coaching by district Induction Coaches, in addition to the site-based coaching by school leaders.
- Increasing the amount of time each week that teachers have to collaborate and learn together. Every school has dedicated two hours per week – without students present – to analyze data, look at student work, plan instruction together and engage in professional learning. They are able to focus and learn together as professionals.
Management and Operations
We believe that the school leaders and their teams need to be empowered to make decisions in the best interest of their schools. The individuals working every day on the front lines to ensure our students’ learning experiences are most informed about what our students need. We also believe that autonomy should come with support for schools, particularly for schools with the greatest need to improve outcomes for students. The central office must be judicious, responsive, reflective, nimble and wholeheartedly committed to setting the conditions for schools and students to be successful. We each hold ourselves accountable to student success at the class, school and system level.
- Improving the quality and service provided by the food service management company. Proper nutrition is an essential component for students being ready to learn in school. The Eos Foundation gave HPS a Healthy Start Leadership Award for our progress in feeding students after the bell. Seven schools were awarded a grant for having breakfast in the classroom participate greater than 80%. “After the bell breakfast in the classroom is a straightforward solution to combat childhood hunger in Massachusetts, with well-documented academic, behavioral, financial, and economic development benefits for kids and school districts,” said Andrea Silbert, President of the Eos Foundation. Through our newly re-negotiated contract, staff are more thoroughly trained. The menus are tailored by grade span, more culturally responsive, and available in Spanish. We also have a detailed 5-year capital plan to continually upgrade equipment.
- Improving network reliability, speed, security and user experience with technology through process improvements, systems, and infrastructure upgrades. Our teachers and students depend on high-functioning technology in order to make the most of every minute in the classroom. We’ve invested in hundreds of new devices and increased the security of the system. Our Panorama Culture and Climate survey indicates a 6-point increase in people being satisfied with the level of technology.
- Investing in upgrading facilities and ensuring facilities are well-maintained. When we expect excellence of our students and teachers, the physical structure of the building must reflect this excellence. This year, we invested in new flooring and lighting replacement at Kelly. We also received funding from MSBA and the city of Holyoke to renovate windows and doors at Morgan School; windows, doors and the boiler at Kelly School; and windows, doors and the roof at Sullivan School. This summer, we are investing in the spaces at Peck School and Holyoke High – Dean Campus, since these two locations will be co-locating with Veritas Prep Holyoke and Holyoke STEM Academy, respectively. Additionally, this summer, we will be replacing the furniture across grades 1-5 classrooms and investing in additional mobile technology. We’ve also increased the speed and quality of resolving operations, maintenance, and technology concerns.
- We continue to be on schedule for building two new and state of the art middle school facilities in Holyoke. The feasibility study on the middle school projects is set for completion by July, with the sites being narrowed down to two and the School Building Committee reviewing a draft of these designs.
- Implementing a new electronic Time and Attendance System to improve accuracy, efficiency, and reporting. We recently moved our 1,000+ employees from an out-of-date paper-based system of tracking employees’ time and attendance to one that is electronic. This helps ensure that time is accurately recorded and reported.