HOLYOKE — In order to better support teacher development and ultimately improve teacher retention, Holyoke Public Schools is modifying students’ schedules by releasing one hour early on Wednesdays as part of a pilot next school year.

Early start schools (Holyoke STEM, McMahon, Metcalf Middle, Holyoke High North and Holyoke High Dean) will continue to open their doors at the same time but instead of the regular 2:30 p.m. release, every Wednesday school will end an hour early at 1:30 p.m. Transitions Academy will also release an hour early each Wednesday at 1:20 p.m.

Late start schools (Donahue, E.N. White, Kelly, Lawrence, Morgan and Sullivan Middle) will follow the same change as their Wednesday school days will end at 2:30 p.m. now. No changes will be made to student or staff schedules at Opportunity Academy.

Times for the half-day preschool will be adjusted as well. The 2024-25 school year calendar is available on the district website.

The effort to change the schedule in this way comes from the district continuing to be actively listening and responding to feedback. Through a Teacher Retention Working Group put together in the spirit of improving working conditions in the district to be a best-fit school district for teachers, recommendations were submitted to the district on areas of improvement.

Of particular concern was that so many teachers feel like the length of the teacher workday and lack of differentiated professional learning are significantly diminishing their work experiences and have contributed to other teachers leaving the district.

“We had a teacher retention work group really dive into what are some of the root causes that lead people to — especially experienced teachers — to leave Holyoke,” Superintendent Anthony Soto said. “Although we had an increase in our retention rate this past year, when you look at the amount of teachers that are in their first three years of teaching in Holyoke compared to other districts, we have a lot.”

The Wednesday early release will allow the district to provide teachers and leaders a longer period of uninterrupted time together to strengthen our understanding and application of curriculum, instruction and assessment. This work will include learning best practices in core instruction, inclusion and early literacy, understanding grade-level standards, analyzing student data and lesson planning to meet students’ needs.
Teachers will also work together to strengthen the implementation of social emotional learning lessons, school and classroom culture, and connections with families and the community.

“I believe that these efforts will strengthen students’ academic success and belonging at school, connections to peers and adults at school and overall well-being,” Soto said. “Schools that have implemented an early release, including our high schools, have reported positive gains in terms of overall school culture and staff learning.”

The schedule change and other efforts from the district in response to the recommendations will also reduce the overall number of hours that elementary and middle school teachers are scheduled to work, provide differentiated professional learning and supports for teachers in first and second years and increase the compensation of high school teachers to align with the compensation provided to their elementary and middle school colleagues.

“[Teachers] have that longer block of time on Wednesday instead of these smaller chunks of time Monday through Thursday, they’ll have one big block of time which I think allows us to provide more effective learning opportunities and collaborative time for teachers,” Soto said of the schedule change and added support for teacher development. “This will give some dedicated professional development time.”

Soto added the change will help the district better onboard new teachers which was another big piece of feedback from the working group.

To support families on early-release Wednesdays, the district will work with after-school providers to see if they are able to accept elementary and middle school students at their site one hour early on Wednesdays. On-site after-school care will also be an explored option for elementary students with parents or guardians working or in school themselves, as well as after school clubs and enrichment activities for middle school students.

“I want to be up front — because of limited funding, transportation cannot be provided for students who stay late. We are also anticipating that based on the timing of school schedules, many middle and high school siblings will be home at the same time or earlier than their younger siblings,” Soto said.

He suggested that families look for more information about these after-school supports before the end of this school year.

As the schedule change unfolds next school year, Soto said the district will continue to listen to feedback from its teachers in hopes to continuing improving its retention rate.

Soto mentioned the yearly Panorama Survey that surveys families, students and staff to get feedback on how the district is doing in different sections. One section of the survey is entirely focused on effectiveness of professional development provided by the school and the district. Soto said those data points are always considered when looking at how they can improve quality of life for teachers in the district.

He added this attempt to address recommendations from the working group will not cover everything listed in just one year, but the district is committed to making Holyoke a place where people want to work and stay.

“We’re going to do what we’ve been doing. We’re going to listen to our teachers, we’re going to listen to our principals, we’re going to listen to our staff and see how effective this change is in terms of helping improve their practice and in terms of getting meaningful professional time and giving them the opportunity that they need to collaborate with each other, effectively lesson plan and grow over time,” Soto said.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts