I n the face of Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s recommendation to put the Holyoke Public Schools under state receivership, the
Holyoke Teachers Association and the MTA have
been working closely with partners throughout the
city to build resistance to the plan and offer a more
authentic community-based vision.
HTA President Gus Morales said that Chester’s
“aggressive agenda of taking control of the schools
has left many people wondering, ‘Why this? Why
“Even in its own review of the district, the
commissioner’s review team noted that gains
were being made,” Morales continued. “And in
pushing for receivership, Commissioner Chester
has not revealed any ideas that he has for improving
outcomes in our schools.”
At a meeting of the Board of Elementary and
Secondary Education on March 24, Chester told
board members he would recommend that the district
be placed in receivership. He urged them to vote on
the issue at one of their next two monthly meetings.
The BESE vote, which Chester needs before
he can appoint a receiver, could be taken as early as
April 28, one day after the BESE holds a required
public hearing in Holyoke.
E ver since the idea of receivership arose, the MTA has been active in the campaign to keep the city’s schools in community hands.
In recent months, MTA staff members in Holyoke
have been assisting the HTA in an intense organizing
campaign to oppose the takeover.
First, HTA members held their own forums so
they could identify issues of concern and come up
with possible approaches to the issues facing the
schools. The HTA and its
partners at Western
With Justice —
as the Reclaim Our
— then held another
forum attended by
nearly 300 elected
officials, parents and other
members of the community.
At that forum, held on April 2, members of the
Holyoke School Committee and City Council, along
with Superintendent Sergio Páez, vowed to oppose
a state takeover. Parents and students expressed
their faith in Holyoke’s educators and voiced serious
doubts about the state’s ability to improve school
achievement through receivership.
The Reclaim Our Schools coalition
subsequently held forums so that community
members could share their views on what the public
At the March BESE meeting, MTA President
Barbara Madeloni criticized Chester’s report for not
offering a comprehensive look at the city’s schools.
“I find it astonishing that it does not include
a picture of the complicated lives of the children
of Holyoke, the real efforts being made every day
to support children, and the wide disparities in
resources between the Holyoke Public Schools and
those in wealthier communities,” Madeloni told
BESE members during the public comment portion.
Educators and others have questioned why
the DESE should be trusted to improve academic
performance in the Holyoke Public Schools, given
the state’s long track record of failed education
initiatives and private partnerships in the district.
The MTA and the HTA consider it reckless
of the state to remove democratic local control of
the public schools. Under receivership, the state-appointed receiver, rather than an elected school
committee, has ultimate authority over the schools.
In the last several weeks, many MTA locals,
joined by unions and other organizations around
the state, have voiced their support for keeping
Holyoke’s schools in community hands.
“This has been incredibly challenging, but we
have become a better union and closer community in
uniting against this threat,” Morales said.
For updates and further information, please visit
Holyoke Teachers Association
President Gus Morales said
that Chester’s “aggressive
agenda of taking control of
the schools has left many
people wondering, ‘Why this?
Above, HTA President Gus
Morales addresses a community
forum. At left, Holyoke High
School graduate and Springfield
Education Association member
Jenna Kaeppel moderates a
discussion on the threatened
state takeover of the Holyoke
Public Schools. Panelists,
from left, included Senator
Don Humason, City Council
President Kevin Jourdain, Mayor
Alex Morse and Superintendent
Sergio Páez. Not pictured
are School Committee
member Devin Sheehan and
Representative Aaron Vega,
both of whom also participated.
Photos by Scott McLennan