Holyoke School Committee Prioritizes Teacher Retention and Student Support

The Holyoke School Committee recently convened to address a variety of issues, with a focus on the challenges of teacher retention and the multifaceted needs of students. During this meeting, the committee discussed strategies to improve the retention of educators, the implementation of social-emotional learning, and the need for consistent discipline across schools.

Central to the meeting was the presentation by the teacher retention work group, which included 21 educators and leaders. Their findings revealed a fluctuating annual teacher retention rate between 71% and 81% over the past decade, with a current rate of 77%. More than half of the district’s teachers have less than three years of experience at Holyoke Public Schools, and there has been a notable departure of 151 teachers within their first year of service between 2021 and 2023. The work group utilized surveys, focus groups, and interviews to identify key reasons for teacher departures, with workload, work-life balance, student behavior, salary, and district leadership being cited by current teachers. Those who left pointed to similar factors, including school leaders and work hours. The significance of this discussion was underscored by a report from Carolyn Montero, an English language development teacher, who highlighted the considerable impact of teacher turnover on the educational system.

The committee members expressed their concerns regarding the high turnover rate and its detrimental effects on student learning. They acknowledged the need to address issues such as work-life balance and compensation to retain experienced educators. The impact of the pandemic on teacher retirements and the shortage of teaching applicants were also topics of debate, with the committee proposing strategies to create a supportive and valued work environment for teachers. Plans were made to share the report and presentation with school leaders, staff, and families, and to gather feedback for the finalization of action plans aimed at improving retention rates and school culture.

In addition to the retention rates, the committee delved into the social-emotional needs of students. The acronym MTSS, standing for multi-tiered systems of support, was presented as a framework to provide academic, behavioral, and social-emotional support through various tiers of intervention. The importance of integrating social-emotional learning into the curriculum and fostering communication among teachers and administrators was discussed. The committee emphasized the need for developing relationships with students, making time for connecting with them, and creating a conducive learning environment. Plans to present a high-level overview of the Trails curriculum at a future meeting were also mentioned.

Another discussion pertained to the Yonder bag pilot program, aimed at reducing cell phone use during the school day. The committee considered extending the pilot for another year based on principals’ reports of its positive impact. Concerns were raised regarding the implementation of bag searches and metal detectors, and the adherence to procedures and policies. Additionally, the committee debated lunch and recess schedules, with a motion to review policies created during receivership and suggestions to expand school cafeterias to accommodate more students.

Other topics included the process of posting job openings, policy reviews, and the role of the school committee in hiring personnel, especially in the context of receivership. Updates from the finance and operations committee, the local control, and the DEI committees were provided, with a reminder about the subcommittee chairs’ responsibilities.

Lastly, the committee discussed discrepancies in disciplinary referral data, emphasizing the need for accurate recording and consistent communication between disciplinarians and parents. Upcoming events such as state field trips, graduation dates, budget hearing, and outdoor graduations were announced, with the meeting concluding with well-wishes for Ramadan and a poem about the library.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Anthony Soto
School Board Officials:
Joshua A. Garcia, Erin Brunelle, Mildred Lefebvre, Gustavo O. Romero, Rosalee Tensley Williams, Dr. Yadilette Rivera Colón, Dr. Gloria Caballero-Roca, John G. Whelihan, William R. Collamore, Ellie Wilson

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