Progress report: Year 2 of the state takeover of Holyoke Public Schools

The high school dropout rate is at 5.4 percent, which is the lowest in 6 years.

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – It has been two years since the state took over control of Holyoke Public Schools for chronic underperformance, and the district is already seeing positive results.

“It’s an opportunity to pause for a second and think about what went right and what you would do differently,” said Dr. Stephen Zrike, the receiver and superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools.

The high school dropout rate is at 5.4 percent, which is the lowest in six years. However, the day is 45 minutes longer in elementary schools and 30 minutes longer in middle schools.

“The extra time for students has been really focused on academic intervention, so looking at what kids’ strengths are, what their weaknesses are and really being targeted about what their needs are to move them to the next level,” Alyson Lingsch, principal at Morgan School, told 22News. Morgan was considered a Level 5 (chronically underperforming) school before the district was. Lingsch said she was hired to improve the school three years ago. Morgan has now become an example for the rest of the district.

Lingsch said about 40 percent of their students do not speak English as their first language. She said new strategies to help those students are working. The school has also increased home visits each trimester to get families more involved in their students’ lives. That, in turn, has improved grades.

At the high school level, the experience has changed completely in the past year. For example, all freshmen attend Holyoke High School for freshmen academy, where they learn the programs offered there and at Dean Tech before deciding which high school to attend.

Dr. Zrike said the number of students dual enrolled in high school and college courses has quadrupled. They have partnerships with local colleges like Springfield Technical Community College and Holyoke Community College.

There are more options for alternative learning students, such as those who are too old and are missing credits.

It’s not just about students – it’s about teachers. Holyoke had a history of struggling to hire and keep teachers in the district. Dr. Zrike said there are now more financial incentives and growth opportunities for teachers to stay. He added, “We continue to hear about teachers wanting more of a voice and an input on what happens in their school and across the district, so I think we’ve started that, I think we’ve still got a long way to go.” In the future, the district plans to build into the school day even more planning time for teachers.