Teachers oppose takeover plans
for Level 5 schools in two cities
Holyoke educators are asking Commissioner Mitchell Chester to make significant changes to his
Level 5 turnaround plan for the Morgan Full Service Community School. Peter McAndrew, left,
president of the Holyoke Teachers Association, attended a recent stakeholders’ meeting with
Superintendent Sergio Páez, center, and Assistant Superintendent Paul Hyry-Dermith.
Photo by Laura Barrett
By Laura Barrett
T eachers represented by the MTA in two schools that have been designated Level 5, or “chronically underperforming,” say that
“with heavy hearts” they are seeking to transfer to
other district schools because they don’t believe that
the commissioner of education’s planned changes are
good for students or fair to educators.
The local associations are fighting for changes
in the Level 5 plans for both the Morgan Full
Service Community School in Holyoke and the
Parker Elementary School in New Bedford. They
say the plans will not lead to the “rapid academic
achievement” of students, as required by law.
Commissioner Mitchell Chester has named
Project GRAD, a Texas-based company, to serve
as the receiver for Morgan and New Bedford
Superintendent Pia Durkin as the receiver for Parker.
As MTA Today went to press, Chester had
released a preliminary plan for Morgan and a
final plan for Parker. The final Morgan plan was
expected shortly. The local associations may
appeal to the Board of Elementary and Secondary
Education for changes within 30 days of final plans
The New Bedford Educators Association and
the Holyoke Teachers Association say the plans as
drafted will hurt the quality of education for the
high-needs students they serve by driving away good
teachers. Both plans would:
Require teachers to work hundreds of hours
more through a longer day and longer school year
with no guarantee of additional pay. Morgan teachers
would have to work up to 453 more hours, equivalent
to 53 more days, or 10½ weeks. At Parker, the plan
calls for 331 more hours, equal to 41 more days, or
about eight more weeks a year.
Abolish the negotiated salary schedule
based on steps and lanes and replace it with a
performance-based system based on teacher
effectiveness. The new system would take effect at
Parker in the fall and at Morgan the following year.
The local associations both argue that performance
pay is divisive, fostering competition rather than
collaboration. They cite research findings showing
that performance pay does not improve student
Replace the negotiated grievance procedure
and impartial arbitration process with an expedited
system in which the final decision would rest with
the commissioner, who would give “substantial
deference” to his appointed receivers.
Funding levels are unclear, with no assurance
there will be enough district, state or federal money
to implement the proposed changes. Neither plan
guarantees adequate preschool services despite the
acknowledged need for them.
The preliminary Morgan plan has an added
provision opposed by the HTA that says Project
GRAD “may outsource positions in whole or in
part, may transfer bargaining unit work in the best
interests of the school operations and the students
it serves, and may hire part-time employees at its
Under the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, Level
5 schools are designated by the commissioner from
among the Level 4 “underperforming” schools
that have failed to meet state improvement targets.
After the Parker, Morgan and two Boston schools
were designated Level 5, Local Stakeholder Groups
composed of parent, teacher, union, district and
community representatives for each school were
formed to make recommendations to Chester about
the turnaround plans.
After Chester released his preliminary plans
in March, the LSGs met to discuss recommended
modifications. The commissioner did not have to
accept any of the suggestions and has broad authority
to appoint receivers, override local contracts and
make other significant changes.
In Holyoke, the members of the LSG reached
consensus on many issues, including calling on
Chester to commit to returning the Morgan to the
district if other district schools improve more quickly
than Morgan does under Project GRAD.
HTA President Peter McAndrew said of the
Morgan preliminary plan as a whole, “I think this
is an attempt to break the union.” Holyoke School
Superintendent Sergio Páez said he shared many of
In New Bedford, there was consensus on some
small issues but no agreement on major ones. At
a contentious LSG meeting on March 24, Parker
teacher and LSG member Michael Irving said, “I
don’t think there’s a single teacher here who doesn’t
think there should be more time on learning, but
there has to be adequate compensation.”
Marcia Guy, a Parker teacher and LSG member,
tearfully echoed that sentiment. “The way this is
structured, I don’t see how anyone who has put time
into teaching will want to come here and help these
kids out,” she said.
Kerri DiPina, the parent representative on the
Parker LSG, expressed anger that parents had yet to
be informed about the planned changes. “It’s going
to be very traumatic for families when they find out
how many teachers are leaving,” she said after the
meeting. “We’ve come to know and trust these faces.
In both Holyoke and New Bedford, the transfer
process is underway. Uncertainty is rippling through
both districts, since teachers with Professional
Teacher Status who leave the two schools may bump
teachers without PTS in other buildings.