Holyoke School Chief Urges United Voice Against State Takeover

Mar 31, 2015

Sergio Paez, Superintendent of Schools in Holyoke, MA addresses members of the news media in his office.
Credit WAMC

With state receivership for the public schools in Holyoke, Massachusetts appearing increasingly likely, the city’s Superintendent of Schools is hoping for more time for an accelerated improvement plan to show results.

Holyoke school superintendent Sergio Paez said the recommendation by the state’s education commissioner that the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education schedule a vote on receivership was “difficult to accept.”

" I think the commissioner is doing his job to do what he thinks is best, however I don't agree with that recommendation," he said.

Paez held a press conference in his office Tuesday to announce the state education board is planning to hold a hearing in Holyoke on April 27th and vote the following day on what is expected to be a formal recommendation from Commissioner Mitchell Chester to put the district in receivership.

"The timeline is short. We have this week and next and then a vacation week. We need to speak out now before it is too late," he said.

  The Holyoke school system has been inching toward receivership for years because of consistently poor test scores coupled with high dropout and low graduation rates. But, Paez, who has been on the job just 19 months, said the pace of change has accelerated. 

" Every transformation requires time," he said.

  He said an “outside provider” would not have a better turnaround plan or be better at implementing it.

" I have worked my whole career, over twenty years, in urban education. I am committed to make it work, I have been successful," he said.

Paez said he was disappointed that state education officials seem to be ignoring evidence of improvement in the Holyoke schools such as the 38 percent decrease in the dropout rate last year, which was the most of any school district in the state.  The graduation rate also improved.

Students in Massachusetts are taking a round of required standardized tests this week, but results won’t be reported until next fall.

Paez urged community members to unite against a state takeover of the city’s public schools, but to refrain from angry outbursts and demonstrations.

" This is an intellectual debate. It is not about chanting or being radical or diminishing the purpose of the public schools," he said.  " This is for me a very serious matter."

The Holyoke teachers union has vocally opposed state receivership, which could result in wholesale staffing changes in the schools.  Some elected school committee members have angrily denounced losing local control over the schools.  About 50 students walked out of class at Holyoke High School last week to protest.

 Two schools in Holyoke, Morgan elementary and Dean Vocational Technical High School, are being run by a private non-profit education company under state orders.  Both schools had been labeled chronically underperforming after test scores did not improve for three straight years.

Chester last year assigned receivers to five schools across the state.

The Lawrence public schools were put into state receivership in 2011.  State officials said graduation rates have increased and tests show students more proficient in reading and math.

Lawrence and Holyoke are among the poorest cities in the state.