Two vie for Holyoke’s Ward 3 School Committee seat

  • Holyoke Ward 3 School Committee candidates Rebecca Birks, left, and Marc Hickey, right. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

  • Holyoke Ward 3 School Committee candidates Rebecca Birks, left, and Marc Hickey, right. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

  • Holyoke Ward 3 School Committee candidate Rebecca Birks SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Holyoke Ward 3 School Committee candidate Marc Hickey SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2019 11:57:16 AM

Two candidates are competing for the Ward 3 School Committee seat being vacated by Dennis Birks, who is running for the ward’s City Council seat. Ward 3 covers the entirety of Elmwood neighborhood, as well as the northeastern portion of the Homestead Avenue neighborhood and a small section of Whiting Farms.

Rebecca Birks

Rebecca Birks is a lifelong Holyoke resident who has lived in Ward 3 for the past 18 years. All three of her children have gone to the city’s public schools, she said. 

Birks runs the school district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Council, she said, and has been involved in the district in various capacities throughout the years, including previously working as a paraprofessional. She is the wife of Dennis Birks, who has represented Ward 3 on the School Committee for the past 10 years.

“The priorities for me — one of the main ones is to try to come up with a really clear path to get us out of receivership,” Birks said.

The high turnover rate of teachers in the district is another concern for Birks, who said receivership has resulted in “some of the most amazing educators” leaving the district. She wants to change that, she said.

Birks is a supporter of the ballot question asking voters to approve a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion to build two new middle schools, though she said both the “yes” and “no” camps have strong arguments. 

“I’m not going to judge anybody either way,” she said. “For me, personally, I don’t see a better alternative and I don’t see another option that’s going to be successful for our kids. I think our kids really need them.”

Birks said she is already very involved in the public schools, and she hopes voters see that.

“I’m already 100 percent committed to this district — to the students, the families and to the staff,” she said.

Marc Hickey

Marc Hickey is the parent of a 9-year-old daughter in the public schools. He has lived in the city and Ward 3 since 2006.

Hickey said that he was previously PTO vice president at his daughter’s school, and that he has come out to her school at recess to supervise kids who want to play basketball. 

“That’s pretty much my life — my daughter and my wife,” he said, adding that a focus for him is getting parents more involved in the district. “There isn’t enough parent involvement in Holyoke, and I answered the bell.”

Getting the district out of receivership is a goal for Hickey. He also said safety is a priority. He would like to see Holyoke Police have more of a presence in the schools. 

“Have them rotate, do a beat,” he said, adding that would show families the police are present. “That can only be a good thing.”

Hickey said he is opposed to the ballot question to approve a debt-exclusion override question to build two new middle schools. He said the city is already “broke” and can’t afford the schools. 

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” he said. “We have to be fiscally responsible and somebody has to say no. And I’m willing to say no.”

Hickey said “fiscal responsibility” is what sets him apart.

“We can’t just sit on School Committee and do the things we’ve been doing, because it has put us in receivership,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misreported when Marc Hickey was vice president of the PTO at his daughter’s school. He is a former vice president.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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