HOLYOKE — The city has locked in a path out of receivership and back into local control following assurances made by the state’s acting education commissioner during a March 25 meeting with the Holyoke School Committee’s Local Control Subcommittee.

Acting Commissioner for the Department of Education and Secondary Education Russell Johnston met with the subcommittee and expressed it was time to move toward Holyoke regaining local control.
“We are officially entering the transition process to return to local control,” said Johnston. “This is my sixth day as acting commissioner and it is really important to me that during what is essentially my first week on the job, that I am here in Holyoke.”

Last September, the School Committee voted to petition former Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to end the receivership. The district has been under receivership since 2015 due to its chronic underperformance. The petition was ultimately denied by Riley in the same month he stepped down from the role.

“Mr. Johnston told us he is committed to helping Holyoke develop a clear plan — with a timeline — to end nine years of state receivership,” said Mayor Joshua Garcia in a statement released later in the week. “We have agreed to work together for the next five months to develop a governance plan that outlines the steps we need to take to regain our schools.

Johnston will personally be participating in seven meetings from April to August with the Local Control Subcommittee. These meetings will be open to the public in person or via zoom with each meeting having a focus as the two parties work out of state receivership.

Those meeting dates will take place on April 8 and 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.

“We are grateful for this clear demonstration of the state’s willingness to work with us,” Garcia said.

Garcia added that when these scheduled meetings conclude in August, that is not when receivership ends but when the exit plan is expected to be completed.

During the meeting, Johnston recommended to the subcommittee that they continue learning more about the law regulating the transition out of receivership. The subcommittee will also continue work on looking at the status of the district’s turnaround and its strategic plans.

“I think of this like puzzle pieces that ultimately have to fit together to support a transition to local control,” Johnston said.

School Committee and Local Control Subcommittee member Erin Brunelle told Johnston she was grateful for the district’s efforts being recognized.

“I could cry,” Brunelle said.

She added it was a reassuring hearing Johnston’s comments as the previously the district felt DESE was not taking their efforts serious enough and creating frustration in the city.

Garcia called DESE out for “indecision” following the previous decision to deny the exit back in February.
Following the meeting with Johnston, many School Committee members expressed gratitude for the state’s efforts and excitement to work out the next steps in exiting receivership.

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