We are proud and appreciative of the significant efforts undertaken during the 2016-17 school year to support our students on their pathway to college and/or career success. Although we still have extensive work to do to ensure an excellent education for every student, we have many accomplishments to celebrate. As our community is aware, we are committed to creating a unique pathway for every student such that each student graduates with more than just a diploma, can think critically and communicate with a purpose, values themselves and their community and leads with a growth mindset and the ability to self-manage. In order to reach this end, we remain committed to our core values of – encouraging bold thinking, exploring all possibilities for student success, embracing all students and families as our own, empowering school teams to impact change and engaging in meaningful feedback. Below is an update on our progress through the lens of our anchor values.
Encouraging Bold Thinking
We are on the cutting edge of secondary school redesign in the Holyoke Public Schools! With financial support from the Barr Foundation, we have convened teachers, parents, students and community members to transform the high school experience. We are designing an experience that is individualized, tailored to student interests, and prepares students for both college and career. Our proposed plan, to be implemented for the 2018-19 school year, has 7 academies – 4 themed-based academies (Community and Global Studies; Technology, Engineering and Design; Performing and Media Arts; and Medical and Life Sciences); a common Freshman Academy; an alternative option: Opportunity Academy for students who need an alternative to the large high school setting; and a Newcomer Academy for students who are developing English. Each academy will provide access to the same core curriculum as well as offer unique courses and concentrations. All academies will include advanced placement courses and college for credit opportunities. To complement these redesign planning efforts, we have encouraged our students to pursue early college enrollment. In partnership with Holyoke Community College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Springfield Technical Community College and Westfield State, we have seen a twenty-fold increase in the number of students enrolled in college courses. In 2014, we had 5 students enrolled in 6 courses and this year we have 119 different students across Dean and Holyoke High enrolled in 157 different courses at a 90% success rate!
Exploring All Possibilities for Student Success
There are multiple indicators that we are providing our students with a stronger school experience. This year, we offered our preK-8 students a fuller school day with additional academics, enrichment, breakfast in the classroom and social/emotional learning opportunities. Some specific highlights include:
A recent site visit from the Department of Early Childhood that highlighted important improvements in the level of student engagement, positive classroom culture, quality of conversation between adults and children and peer-to-peer across our early childhood classrooms. At the high school level, we continue to see a decline in the dropout rate. We are down another 24% year to date for SY16-17 after a 28% decrease last year in dropouts. This number is in large part due to the increase in alternative high school options. (We have doubled the number of options/seats in the last year).
We continue to expand and grow successful choice programs – our dual language offerings (Metcalf and EN White) and our personalized learning program (P3 at Peck) – that have demonstrated strong academic outcomes and high levels of student, parent and staff satisfaction.
Our staff has worked hard to transition more special education students to less restrictive settings. Approximately 70 more students in grades 4-12 have been provided with more inclusionary experiences across our schools during the current school year
Engaging in Meaningful Feedback
We believe that a strong school system actively solicits input and feedback from its stakeholders. This year we engaged in an extensive process to re-envision our portfolio of schools over the next five years. Based on input received, we recommended shifting the district to distinct elementary and middle schools feeding into our high schools. We are in the process of planning for two, state of the art middle schools in conjunction with the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Additionally, as a result of recommendations from our educators, we have expanded our induction program to include more regular coaching to better prepare our new educators for teaching. Finally, we are pleased that both students and teachers share that they are receiving more regular feedback on their work. At all levels of the organization, we are committed to establishing a culture where input is appreciated and truly informs our improvement efforts.
Empowering School Teams to Impact Change
Individual school communities are leading impactful and meaningful change in the Holyoke Public Schools. School leadership teams have been provided with autonomy in budgeting and scheduling as well as determining their instructional focus areas. Consequently, we have seen a 14-point increase in the percentage of teachers who feel trusted to teach their students in the manner that they think is best. We have also invested in creating additional leadership opportunities for staff to have greater influence on the direction of their school and the district through– designation as an advanced teacher, participating on the superintendent’s advisory group, serving on school based instructional teams and being part of our aspiring leaders program.
Embracing our Families
At the cornerstone of our efforts, is our commitment to strengthening our relationship with our families. With the assistance of parent leaders and our outreach staff, we have hosted more than 25 outreach events to take our schools out into the community, organized almost 50 “Parent Power” educational events and revitalized the participation of our Special Education Parent Advisory Committee. Some events to highlight include– neighborhood walks, community festivals, school readiness and literacy information sessions and parent workshops on bullying, financial literacy, transition and effective advocacy. Each school also hosted showcases this spring where families could celebrate the work and talents of their children. We hosted these events in lieu of a spring conference as we believe parents should have the opportunity to consult with their child’s teacher whenever the need arises throughout the school year.
While there have been many accomplishments, we know that tremendous work still lies ahead. We must better support our educators to – develop engaging tasks, create additional opportunities for collaboration, offer more relevant professional learning and more effectively monitor student progress. At the same time, our educators have requested additional guidance around social and emotional learning. It is incumbent on us to develop a more robust system of supports for students who have experienced trauma and who present with mental health challenges. Further, we are committed to enhancing the middle school experience for our students. While we are excited about the prospect of introducing new middle-grade facilities in the coming years, we have to act now to ensure that students receive the kind of dynamic, hands-on and motivating learning experience they deserve during this critical stage of development. Finally, we are invested in developing even stronger connections with our families and community partners. Your role is instrumental in our efforts to provide a pathway for every student!