Guest column: There are two sides to the Holyoke receivership story

  • Former Holyoke High School boys basketball coach Bill Rigali. Submitted photo

Published: 1/27/2020 5:00:27 PM
Modified: 1/27/2020 5:00:10 PM
This column was written and signed by 35 retired or former Holyoke public school teachers.

There have been many disturbing press releases and decisions made by the school receivership in Holyoke that we as retired and former teachers in the Holyoke Public Schools question.

We were deeply saddened and shocked last spring to hear about the termination of longtime coaches Tom Brassil, Bill Rigali and Kevin Roberts. As retired and former teachers at Holyoke High School, we knew the depth of the dedication these coaches had for the children of Holyoke. These men went above and beyond their duties both on and off the court/field, feeding players in need, tutoring them, outfitting them and, most importantly, guiding them.

Principal Stephen Mahoney made the decision to fire these coaches during his first year at Holyoke High School. His decision to interview new coaches was within his rights as principal. We ask, however, how does someone remove these outstanding role models when he has such little experience in this district? The only reason Principal Mahoney gave for this termination was the school was “going in a new direction,” which was confusing not only to the faculty and staff, but to many players, parents (both present and past) and citizens of Holyoke.

Principal Mahoney was quoted to be searching for the most qualified candidates. While we don’t question the qualifications of the new coaches, we do question how capable, successful and well-loved coaches with 37, 28 and 24 years of experience were all deemed to be less qualified than applicants with many less years? In a Dec. 13 article in the Holyoke Sun newspaper, Holyoke Schools Receiver and Superintendent Stephen Zrike said while there was an interview committee, “the actual decisions came from the building principal and athletic director.”

Shame on them for not allowing these three beloved coaches a retirement year and not allowing them to exit their positions with the respect and dignity they deserved.

Does it not seem the interview process was just a formality? This begs the question: Why sign in Holyoke when you see how long-standing devoted staff members are treated after a lifetime of excellent service? If it can happen to these outstanding men, it can happen to anyone. And what exactly does Principal Mahoney’s “new direction” really mean?

When the receivership boasts of achievements made under this “new direction,” the first thing mentioned is the increase in graduation rates. Sadly, the increase in graduation rates is a result of lowering of standards for academics, attendance and behavior by the receivership. This is a practice which past leaders never considered.

We also question how the graduation rate can be increasing when MCAS and Advanced Placement scores have been on a downward trajectory, according to figures posted at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (

When we teachers worked in the Holyoke Public Schools, most educators stayed in Holyoke for their entire careers. We were dedicated to this city, to the students and we respected our leaders who enforced rules for behavior and attendance. Since Holyoke went into receivership in the summer of 2015, over 600 teachers have left the Holyoke district (Prior to receivership, 95.6% of teachers were licensed. This dropped to 88.4% this school year).

What does this say about the reality in our schools? We ask that the public and the press speak to retired teachers and those who have left the district to get this other side of the story. Holyoke has only been presented with one side. We have given you the other.

We are saddened by the firing of these outstanding coaches, the decrease in MCAS and AP scores at both high schools, the distortion of truth behind the increase in graduation rates and the exodus of so many wonderful educators.

As Zrike steps down at the end of this school year, the position of receiver has been posted with an advertised salary of $185,000-$220,000. We question if the taxpayers of Holyoke will be paying this salary? Will the new receiver share the entire story with our city? And most importantly, to whom does the receiver answer?

This column was signed by Dorothy Albrecht, Doug Arnold, Michael Athas, Elizabeth Butler, Joan Cavanaugh, Roger Cook, Gerry Corradino, Elizabeth DeJesus, Chester Dudley, Judy Falcetti, Marc Feinberg, Tony Fernandes, Allen Gagnon, Darlene Henshaw, Doryn Kelly, Robert Lastowski, Lorenda Lewis-Carmen, Charlene Mahoney, Paula Marcotte, Laurie Marvel, Olivia Mausel, Michael McKenna, Marie Mew, Susan Napolitano, Kristin Newell, Gary O’Connor, Barbara Pasternak, Audrey Poulin, Jill Reardon, Linda Rex, Jim Ripa, John Roth, Elizabeth Syrek-Lacey, Sharon Szostkiewicz and Halina Wilkes.

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