Holyoke residents weigh in on next receiver — and protest continuing state control

  • A sheet of paper with feedback listing some of the qualities that a group of participants in Thursday's public forum want to see in Holyoke's next receiver-superintendent. Bera Dunau—Staff Writer

Staff Writer
Published: 2/13/2020 11:38:28 PM
Modified: 2/13/2020 11:38:17 PM

HOLYOKE — Someone who is bilingual. A disciplinarian. A candidate who isn’t driven toward privatizing schools. Someone who will send their own children to Holyoke Public Schools.

These are some of the qualities members of the public said they’d like to see in the next receiver-superintendent for Holyoke Public Schools during a Thursday forum at Holyoke High School. However, criticism of the very concept of a receiver was also apparent at the meeting.

“I want my school committee to select the next superintendent,” said resident Natalia Muñoz, following the meeting. “Boston should not condescend to us and tell us what’s best for Holyoke.”

Holyoke’s current receiver-superintendent, Stephen Zrike, was appointed by then state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester in 2015 after Holyoke Public Schools were put into state receivership. Among the reasons for the state takeover of the system were low graduation rates from the high school, a high dropout rate and overall poor academic performance of students.

Zrike announced in December that he would be stepping down from his position at the end of the school year, citing a desire to spend more time with his family, who live north of Boston.

Holyoke’s new receiver-superintendent will be appointed by Jeff Riley, the state’s education commissioner, not the School Committee, because Holyoke remains in receivership.

Thursday’s forum was part of a process to get input from the public on what they’d like to see in the next receiver. It was conducted by the Great Schools Partnership, a nonprofit, for the state. This was the second and last such forum, although the Great Schools Partnership has also distributed surveys and has met with various stakeholder groups.

At Thursday’s forum, which drew several dozen people, the crowd was divided into three groups to help determine what characteristics they’d like to see in a receiver and what skills and knowledge they would like the person to have, as well as other considerations.

Based on a show of hands, most of the people at the meeting were either employees of the schools or have worked in the schools.

In the group facilitated by Dean Santiago of the Peck School, the three sheets of paper filled up quickly.

“I want a person that wants to put himself out of a job,” said Steven Kravetz, speaking in the meeting. “Quickly. Not 10 years from now.”

Rosalee Tensley Williams, the School Committee member for Ward 2, said she wanted a receiver who wasn’t a novice, while resident and activist Manny Pintado said he would like to see someone with a good rapport with students, parents, teachers and community.

John Perdrizet said that he was interested in someone who was not driven toward privatization, while also not being driven toward protecting teachers unions.

“I want somebody who’s balanced,” he said.

Additionally, Perdrizet said he’d like to see a receiver who has both a business and a teaching background.

The Great Schools Partnership will submit its final written report to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by the end of the month. Steven Sell, a consultant with the nonprofit, said that he doesn’t know what the timeline is for the selection process after that. However, he did say that the department will use the community input to help identify candidates.

Israel Rivera, who ran for City Council earlier this year, said after the meeting he would have liked to have seen the state education commissioner at the event, and that he’d like to see representation from the department of education.

“Having conversations with any middleman doesn’t make any sense,” said Rivera, whose stepdaughter goes to high school in Holyoke. Muñoz also expressed a desire for Riley to come to the Paper City.

“If the commissioner’s really interested in, ‘What does Holyoke want?’ he should show up in person,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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