Guest column: Former Holyoke educators outline solutions to school woes

  • Holyoke High School, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. gazette file photo

Published: 5/22/2020 1:07:16 PM
Modified: 5/22/2020 1:07:03 PM

Editor’s note: This column was written and signed by 78 retired or former Holyoke public school teachers. 

This letter in is response to the Gazette’s editorial on May 9. In previous letters, we shared data to support our concerns with receivership in Holyoke. We agree with the Gazette editorial that now is the time to share some of the most pressing suggestions and solutions. Most suggestions are focused on Holyoke High School; some apply to all schools.

Class offerings: Students enter grade 9 with a wide range of abilities; therefore, each subject area should offer at least three courses at each grade level to meet all students at their zone of proximal development (support all learners). Prior to receivership the math department offered four courses to support incoming freshman. The receivership eliminated two of them.

Maintaining high standards: We know that students discuss their class choices for the following year with their teachers, parents and guidance counselors and have the opportunity, if prepared, to take honors and advanced placement courses. This was always the procedure at Holyoke High. 

What is different now is how teachers work with struggling students. In the past, the philosophy of the school was that the entire scope and sequence was covered. If a student was struggling, they would attend office hours or Saturday tutoring. If students continued to struggle, students had the opportunity to either change their classes (during first semester) or stay in the class and take the grade they earned. 

To maintain high standards, the teacher cannot slow down to meet the student. Students have to rise to the level of the class or change their class. Under receivership, class change is rare. Teachers are instructed to slow down, give students less work and make-up work so that they will pass.

Grading: To keep standards high and maintain the integrity of a class, the grades students earn in a class should correlate with the students’ scores on an end of year exam such as MCAS and AP. Since receivership, 72. 4% of students failed the AP exam. A number of parents have said that their children received an A in their AP class, but failed the exam. Clearly there is a serious disconnect.

Make-Up Work and Summer School: Students should be given a limited amount of time to make up work missed due to absences. For example, for every one day missed, they are given two days to make up an assignment. For quizzes or tests missed, they should be given two weeks to make up the test. Of course, there are always circumstances in a student’s life that would allow for extended time. 

Learning is sequential and students need to complete work on a timely basis to be prepared for upcoming standards. Students that cut class should not be get credit for make-up work. Students should only qualify for summer school if they have an average of 50% or higher in a class and summer school should be five weeks. Students who struggle should be encouraged to attend high school for a fifth year, as opposed to making up credits. 

Under receivership, there is no deadline to make up work and students that choose not to go to class can make up work. Any student can go to summer school, even students with a zero average, and summer school is only four weeks.

Coaching: All academic coaches and principals that support teachers with instruction and classroom management should teach classes. Coaches should teach three classes and principals should teach one. These classes should have an end of year exam such as MCAS or AP. This will allow the principals and coaches the ability to see if the strategies and policies they are implementing work on a daily basis and make the needed changes if they are not working. This will also allow teachers to observe or co-teach with the coach or principal.

Tracking students absent from class: All students that are present for the day, but missing from class, should be reported to the vice principal, who will research where the student was and inform the classroom teacher of every student’s whereabouts. This should be a mandatory policy for the safety of all staff and students as well as to keep students in class.

IDs: The staff in all schools presently wear identification. IDs should also be worn at all times by students at the high schools. This would enhance safety in helping staff identify students who belong in the schools.

Code of conduct: For the safety and welfare of all students and in preparation for the real world, the district should develop and distribute to each family a clear code of conduct with written policies, rules and regulations for conduct and discipline. When disciplinary action is necessary, it shall be administered with fairness and individual circumstances will be considered. 

Some situations or first-time offenses can be resolved in the classroom, but repeated offenses require progressive discipline. Progressive disciplines will include, but are not limited to, parent conference, restorative justice and/or detention. Suspension will be used for illegal or seriously disruptive behavior, or when a student has accumulated a decided upon number of detentions. What is best for an individual student must be balanced with what is best for the entire school community.

Restorative justice: When appropriate, restorative justice will be incorporated into the consequences for inappropriate behavior as mentioned above. Restorative justice does not replace the consequences. Two basic theories of restorative justice are repairing damage done by the misconduct and restoring relationships. The hope is that restorative justice will allow students to empower themselves to see the repercussions of poor behavior and to change these behaviors.

We are extremely proud to have taught in the Holyoke Public Schools. We embraced and celebrated the cultural diversity of our students and their families. Given the unprecedented challenges next year due to COVID-19, we hope that all voices are part of the solution. We welcome the opportunity to further our conversations with Dr. Alberto Vazquez Matos as we look forward to fulfilling the mission of the Holyoke Public Schools for all students.

This column was signed by Dorothy Albrecht, Elicia Andrews, Doug Arnold, Michael Athas, Joy Bartley, Barbara J. Bernard, Diane Borowski, Animesh Bose, Margaret Brown, Elizabeth Butler, Angela Cartier, Joan Cavanaugh, Mary Cochran, Roger Cook, Gerry Corradino, Elizabeth DeJesus, Helen Donahoe, Chester Dudley, Mary Ann Dunn, Kathy Dunn, Lynn Dutsar, Judy Falcetti, Marc Feinberg, Tony Fernandes, Mark Folta, Allen Gagnon, Sheryl Gelinas, Gerry Girouard, Michael Gill, Diane Godek, Nicole Henry, Darlene Henshaw, Patti Jennings, Beth Kane, Doryn Kelly, Robert Lastowski, David Lawrence, Louise Lawrence, Lorenda Lewis-Carmen, Charlene Mahoney, Paula Marcotte, Joann Marcotte, Laurie Marvel, Olivia Mausel, Ellen McDonough, Lee McGarrigle, Michael McKenna, Kathy McMahon, Marie Mew, Gus Morales, Noreen Moriarty, Susan Napolitano, Kristin Newell, Gary O’Connor, Mary Ann O’Connor, Patricia O’Donnell, Eileen O’Neill,  Kathy O'Neill, Judy Parker, Barbara Pasternak, Sonia Pope, Audrey Poulin, Sandy Rigali, Jill Reardon, Peter Rego, Linda Rex, Jim Ripa, James Rossmeisl, John Roth, Debra Sherburne, Sally Stocking, Elizabeth Syrek-Lacey, Sharon Szostkiewicz, Susan Tawrel, Thomas Tisdell, Halina Wilkes, Anthony Zebrowski, Nancy Zenisky.

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