Official Publication of the Massachusetts Teachers Association
Educators work to ensure students’ needs are met
By Scott McLennan
E ducators in Holyoke and Southbridge — whose districts are now under state control — are contending with changing
work environments as they assert their collective
voices in turnaround plans being developed by the
receivers placed in charge of their communities’
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary
Education voted last April to put the Holyoke
Public Schools into receivership. Local associations
representing educators subsequently filed unfair
labor practice charges with the state Department of
Labor Relations over the lack of bargaining as the
district changed working conditions.
The DLR has issued a consolidated complaint
in response to some of the charges; a hearing is
scheduled for June.
The Holyoke Teachers Association and Receiver
Stephen Zrike have held two bargaining sessions
over a new compensation schedule. While the union
has won some concessions, it remains opposed
to a plan to link pay increases to performance
HTA President Ed Meyer said the local has also
been working with the MTA to provide assistance
to educators placed on a “receiver’s list” that targets
teachers for termination. Meyer expressed concerns
that the state’s turnaround plan hasn’t adequately
addressed students’ social needs thus far or taken
aim at the root causes of underachievement, such as
In January, the BESE voted to place the
Southbridge Public Schools into receivership. Five
members of the Southbridge Education Association
were appointed to a local stakeholders’ group
charged with making recommendations to a receiver,
who was eventually named in March by Education
Commissioner Mitchell Chester.
Jessica Huizenga, most recently an assistant
superintendent in Cambridge, officially assumes her
duties as receiver in May.
While a lack of consistent leadership in
the district triggered the decision to place the
schools under state control, the SEA identified
specific educational, emotional and social needs
that students in the district face.
S EA members in the local stakeholders’ group reached out to all of the association’s members to find out what the schools needed to do to
best meet students’ needs. Many of their ideas were
among the recommendations sent to the receiver.
Among the proposals adopted by the
stakeholders’ group were hiring more instructors
skilled at working with English language learners,
as well as an ELL director; hiring outreach workers
to serve as liaisons between homes and schools;
and improving the alignment of curriculum and
SEA President Joan Sullivan said educators are
already seeing changes to their working conditions,
Meyer pointed out that in Holyoke, the state had
been involved for many years but its initiatives did
little to help struggling students.
Now he worries that if the current state
turnaround plan simply mirrors what is being done
in Lawrence, the needs of Holyoke students will not
SEA member Anna Kiritsy-Tsitsilianos and Vice President David Williams listened to proposals
during a local stakeholders’ group meeting after the Southbridge Public Schools were placed in
receivership. Receiver Jessica Huizenga officially assumes her duties in May.
Photo by Scott McLennan