HOLYOKE — The first of a series of scheduled meetings between the Holyoke School Committee’s Local Control Subcommittee and the state’s acting education commissioner began on April 8 where discussions officially resumed on mapping the district out of receivership.

Acting Commissioner for the Department of Education and Secondary Education Russel Johnston met with the subcommittee following expressing to the district it was time to move toward the city regaining control of its schools. Johnston became acting commissioner in March following previous Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley stepping down.

Johnston met with the subcommittee at the end of March to confirm it was time to work out of receivership and agreed to participate in seven meetings from April to August with the Local Control Subcommittee. This was the first of those public meetings.

The majority of the meeting was discussion around the turnaround plan and how to continue improving the district following it’s strategic plan. Each side went through priority areas for the district to maintain after exiting receivership and laid the foundation of the plan out of receivership.

Johnston was open about working with the district to focus on improvement for the district and how to sustain following its exit from receivership.

“What we want to see a School Committee doing post receivership is continuing to focus on the strategic plan [for the district], not sort of, bringing new ideas right and left one meeting to the next, but more like steady focus on the strategic plan,” Johnston said.

Johnston mentioned utilizing personal pathways for students and helping them connect to education or careers after graduation. He also spoke on the district’s dual-language program which he credited for its expansion since its formation. He asked if there would be areas of focus that the School Community would still support post receivership.

“The short answer is yes, yes and yes,” said School Committee Vice Chair Erin Brunelle. “The dual language program is absolutely the shining star of our district I believe. I think I’m OK speaking for all of us when saying we’re firmly committed to continuing and enhancing the Dual Language program in any way we can. To see what’s coming out of the high school at this point in time is nothing short of amazing of what our students can accomplish when pushed there.”

For the pathways programming and alternative education options like Opportunity Academy side of the question from Johnston, Brunelle said she liked what the district was doing there.

“I think there’s one area that we could strengthen in our middle school with regards to the pathways at the high school, which is just providing more opportunity for arts and media education to be feeding that particular academy at Holyoke High,” Brunelle said.

School Committee member Yadilette Rivera Colón added one thing to consider when thinking forward is that a big reason these initiatives have had success is because they had the funding to back the work.

“As we’re planning forward and we’re stepping out of receivership, it is important that we continue to have the financial support to continue those programs so that way we can continue to improve and see all the great things that our students are able to do when they’re given the proper tools,” Colón said.

School Committee member Gloria Caballero-Roca asked Johnston if there were standards the state wanted to acknowledge to establish a standard to be met when adhering to the dual language programming and maintaining funding. Johnston said the state has guidelines for developing the dual language program.

Brunelle added she felt the district has a great working relationship with the School Committee around dual language education and reiterated the district is together on continuing its efforts through pathways programming and alternative education.

Colón added on the topic of the high school it was important not to let the work of Dean Tech go unnoticed as it is a crucial vocational program for students.

“As Ms. Brunelle would say, ‘give Dean it’s identity back,’” Colón said. “That’s something that I know as a School Committee we also want to make sure we focus on as part of this process because we want to make sure that we’re taking care of all our students so that all of our students have pathways regardless of what high school they go to.”

Brunelle seconded the point made and said too often when speaking of high school academics the vocational side is forgotten.

“The academies and the pathways do continue into our vocational school when you think about the shops,” Brunelle said.

Johnston was happy to hear the district has been prepared in mapping out the best strategies out of receivership and focusing closer on what they want to prepare most to maintain once they are back with control. He added later in the discussion that by August they should have a written plan set to finalize.

The meeting continued with back-and-forth discussion on priority areas to be identified as this meeting served as the base to the coming summer of continued discussion.

“We are hard workers and we’re also lucky that we have a great relationship with the receiver,” Colón said. “In the time that I have been here I have seen alignment with the strategic plan and our agenda 100%, all the time.”

The remaining meetings between Johnston and the Local Control Subcommittee will take place on April 23, May 13 and 28, June 10, July 22 and Aug. 19, all at 5 p.m. at the Holyoke High School Dean Campus. More information is available on the district website, and recordings of the meetings can be found on the Holyoke Public Schools YouTube Channel.