Holyoke public schools being taken over by state

Vote was 8-3 in favor of receivership

FITCHBURG, Mass. (WWLP) – Holyoke Public Schools will placed under state control, following a vote Tuesday by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The board voted 8-3 Tuesday afternoon to approve the proposal, during their monthly meeting in Fitchburg.

State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester had recommended a takeover, due to what he says was chronic underperformance by schools in the district. The possibility of a takeover has been an extremely controversial issue in the city, which has been opposed by the Holyoke Teachers Association, as well as some parents and city leaders.

Board Chairman Paul Sagan told 22News that they were all in Holyoke for a public meeting until about 8:40 Monday night, listening to testimony from hundreds of city residents and political leaders. Board members said that the three main arguments they heard against state takeover were this would take away the democratic process, that Superintendent Dr. Sergio Paez should have more time to implement reforms, and that the Holyoke Public Schools are doing the best they can.

Board member Donald Willyard was one of the three who voted against the takeover, saying that he felt the district is making progress.

“It’s difficult to really turn your back on students when they’re going in a positive direction, which under Sergio Paez and the local leadership that they had in the district currently, they are making some very great strides in the right direction,” Willyard said.

But Chester said that despite wishes to keep current reforms going under local control, there was just no other option than receivership.

“Despite many attempts to work with the district and partner with the district, a light touch has not gotten us there,” Chester said.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse told 22News that the city will work to make sure those who are involved in the Holyoke Public Schools will get to participate in the process going forward.

“There’s a lot of fear, and so I encourage teachers, parents to do their research to attend community meetings, to be engaged in this process. I stand ready and available to meet with people,” Morse said.

The Holyoke Public Schools will become only the second district to come under state control, with only the Lawrence schools also having been brought under state receivership.

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