Former educators denounce receivership to Holyoke City Council

  • Laurie Marvel, a former educator in the Holyoke Public Schools, speaks at the City Council meeting on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Staff Writer
Published: 2/5/2020 10:43:38 PM

HOLYOKE — Residents packed into the historic City Council chambers on Tuesday, with many there to express their frustration with the city’s schools under state receivership.

“We’re asking the City Council to look at the other side of school receivership,” said Doug Arnold, a retired teacher who worked in the district. “Five years later, we are at the same place we were.”

Arnold was one of six former district educators who spoke during public comment on Tuesday to express their dismay at what they said were low test scores, a hemorrhaging of talent and lack of local input under receivership. A current teacher also spoke out against receivership during the meeting, unaware he would be preceded by the former teachers.

Holyoke schools have been under state receivership since 2015, meaning that a state-appointed receiver controls the school system as opposed to the city’s democratically elected School Committee.

“During this time, the school system has lost over 600 veteran teachers, administrators and staff,” Arnold said. He added that this year some 425 city students have used school choice to attend other public schools in surrounding communities.

Elizabeth Butler, another of the group of teachers, said she spent 22 years as an educator in Holyoke, where she grew up and expected to end her career. But employees of the school system have had their voices, union protections and safety taken from them, she said. 

“For too long you have remained quiet and complacent — we all have,” she said, noting that talented educators have been swept up by surrounding school districts. “It’s time to talk about the other side of receivership: the view from the inside.”

Butler said she knows of four more veteran teachers who have left the district in the last few weeks.

Charlene Mahony, who taught in the district for three decades, said many people have sat back during receivership to see if changes being made would benefit students. 

“Unfortunately this has not been the case,” she said, adding that test scores — on the MCAS and Advanced Placement exams, for example — have trended downward. 

Laurie Marvel, another of the former educators, said she was disappointed with the recent termination of three longtime coaches in the district: Tom Brassil, Bill Rigali and Kevin Roberts. 

“These coaches emphasized to their players that they were students first and athletes second,” Marvel said, adding that she was outraged when they were let go. “What recourse do the citizens of Holyoke have?”

In attendance to speak at the meeting was Andres Kwart, a new teacher at Holyoke High School who said he was unaware six former teachers would precede him.

“I’m so privileged to be in my position and so grateful for the kids in Holyoke because they really fill me with so much happiness and they’re just so excited to be with each other,” he said. “But at the same time, the system is very much doing them a disservice. It’s so clear.”

Kwart too expressed concerns about receivership.

He said the district has seen an influx of students amid earthquakes in Puerto Rico, and that the state is not preparing Holyoke to be resilient. Instead, he said, the state is preparing the district “to lay over and be dead.”

“I think the receivership, it’s very clear that this really unique situation we have in Holyoke, it’s not something that they’re ready to handle,” Kwart said. “I think it requires local, direct action.”

The teachers were part of a group of former school teachers who wrote a letter expressing their concerns to the local media.

The City Council voted to send that letter to its Development and Government Relations Committee, where it will be on the agenda March 9.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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