Holyoke school officials making efforts with DESE to end state receivership

Holyoke Superintendent of Schools Anthony Soto was called before state education leaders Tuesday to provide an update on efforts to get the city’s public school
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 4:31 PM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
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HOLYOKE, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Holyoke Superintendent of Schools Anthony Soto was called before state education leaders Tuesday to provide an update on efforts to get the city’s public school system out from under state receivership, which they have been under since 2015.

Superintendent Soto outlined the positive changes in Holyoke over the last decade, including graduation rates, rezoning efforts, and a more diverse staff. However, the big question on everyone’s minds still remains unanswered.

“I asked last board meeting, Commissioner Riley, it sounds like you’re the one who can make the decision,” said Darlene Lombos of Boston. “What are the steps a district needs to take to get out of receivership?”

On Tuesday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education board meeting featured Holyoke public school officials, including Superintendent Soto, for updates on the district’s progress. Holyoke is one of three districts currently under state receivership and has been since 2015 because the state believed the district was critically underperforming.

At the meeting, Superintendent Soto outlined several key figures, including graduation rates on the rise, decreasing dropout rates, and higher participation in advanced coursework.

“These are really brave things that you’re doing, and as you point out Anthony, to be able to do it and do it effectively is really a credit to you,” said DESE Board Chairperson Katherine Craven.

Superintendent Soto also offered his personal account of how the state’s involvement has helped, including throughout the school rezoning process.

“Some adults might not be aligned to that vision, but it’s what we think is best for kids,” Superintendent Soto said. “I think to pull that off would have been difficult. I’m not saying it would have been impossible, but it definitely would have been more difficult.”

In a statement obtained by Western Mass News, DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley outlined changes that will soon take effect. He said, in part:

“In FY2023, [DESE] … has provided $401,455 in strategic transformation grant funding to Holyoke. This funding is supporting key central office positions that provide supervision and day-to-day support to school leaders, and these positions will be fully absorbed into the district budget starting in FY24.”

However, for everyone asking when the district will be out of receivership and what steps it will take to get there, there is no clear answer.

“It’s an ongoing process, much like how receivers got into receivership,” Commissioner Riley said. “We weren’t hasty and we don’t want to be hasty getting out of receivership. There could be severe unintended financial consequences, among other things, so we’re just trying to be really thoughtful and working with the stakeholders on the ground for next steps.”

Commissioner Riley also said that he will continue to meet regularly with Superintendent Soto, Mayor Joshua Garcia, and city officials to review performance. Then, in 2024-25, he will meet with city and state officials to discuss potential pathways for exiting.