HTA Local Stakeholder Group Representatives Update to the Membership

*The location of the next Local Stakeholder Group meeting has changed. The meeting will now take place at the Kittredge Center at Holyoke Community College. The meeting is scheduled to run from 3 to 6 p.m. on Monday, June 1. Please spread the word and plan on attending. Even though the meetings are not public forums, the public is welcome and members of the stakeholder group are accessible during breaks in the formal meeting*

HTA Local Stakeholder Group Representatives

Update to the Membership

 

Members of the HTA,

 

The Local Stakeholder Group (LSG), whose purpose is to serve as an advisory board to the state and make recommendations as the state begins the school turnaround process in Holyoke, held its first meeting Wednesday, May 27,  at the Holyoke Public Library. The group consists of 18 community representatives, including President of Holyoke Teachers Association, Gus Morales;  teacher representatives, Briget Reilly and Shelley Whelihan; parents; school principals; and leaders of local organizations. The first meeting set the stage for the work the group must undertake within the next 45 days.

 

With approximately 100 people packing the meeting as observers, the group spoke freely and discussed both the positive and negative aspects of the school district. Among the topics discussed at this meeting were Early Literacy Programs, such as Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative (HELI), the education of second language learners and how the city approaches this issue. The group also brought forward such pressing issues as class size, class period length, discipline issues, and  suspension rates .

 

To one point in particular, the HTA representatives questioned the state’s use of the terms “affordable” and “sustainable” as applied to the turnaround process. The LSG facilitators mentioned the possibility of start-up funds for some proposals, but the HTA will be looking for answers on long-term investments in education and community resources. As stated in a MassLive article posted yesterday:

 

State officials who facilitated the meeting asked members to ensure suggestions are “affordable, sustainable and scalable.”

 

Holyoke Teachers Association President Gus Morales asked for clarification on this point. “Affordable for whom? For our district or for Longmeadow?”

 

Several other issues were brought up by the HTA that had to do with the start time of the meetings and the possibility of having the meetings televised. To the first, the HTA’s position is that the start time of 3:00 pm is not beneficial to the community, especially when considering the parents who do not receive their children from the bus until about 3:30pm. In order for this to be a truly public, open, inclusive process, all efforts must be made to ensure maximum participation from the community. As to the second issue of the meeting being televised, it is imperative that the process of the LSG be as transparent as possible. This entails making sure that even the folks that can’t attend due to childcare or work-related issues, should be afforded the same opportunity to bear witness to the events that will likely shape Holyoke’s future. The HTA feels strongly that the onus falls to the state to accommodate as many as possible and avail the process to the whole community.

 

Overall, the HTA Teacher Representatives were pleased with yesterday’s meeting and feel that several pertinent issues were brought forward by community members. Shelley Whelihan said, “It was good to see that the parent representatives and some of the community members seemed to understand some of the issues we, as educators, have been talking about and wanted addressed.”

One such example of the mutual understanding and productive back-and-forth discussion was the issue of 90-minute blocks for classes. Gus Morales was asked by a community member what he meant by 90-minute blocks. Dean Tech teacher Briget Reilly fielded that question by explaining the concept and the challenges of this schedule, further adding that it is an extremely difficult endeavor for students to sustain attention for long periods, especially for one class/subject. Principal Jackie Glasheen stated that she had “plenty of teachers begging (her) to give them longer periods of time with their kids.” Holyoke High School graduate and current Yale University student, Erin Hebert, a community representative on the LSG,  stated, from the perspective of a student who has experienced both, that “forty-five minute periods at Holyoke High were a breath of fresh air. Ninety minutes was just too long.”

 

As the work moves forward, the Teacher Representatives to the LSG will continue to meet with their Advisory Committee and hear from all teachers who share opinions and concerns. They will then take those concerns to the table and continue to add to the dialogue that is intended to try to create the schools our students deserve. It is important that we share the experiences of teachers working in the classroom. This will provide the proper context to the data being presented by the state.

 

“I always want to address the mistakes we’ve made and we really do need to address things that have not worked if we are to progress as a city. We’ve seen a good give-and-take of varying viewpoints, and I thought our facilitators were clearly capturing the ideas of the participants,” said Gus Morales, President of Holyoke Teachers Association.

 

The next meeting will take place on Monday, June 1, at 3:00 pm. It is of the utmost importance that we have a great showing of teachers, students, parents, and community members at all of these meetings in order to send the message that we are present and that we will hold the commissioner to his word about making this a transparent and public process. Even though the meetings are not a public forum, it is clear audience members can interact with members of the group during breaks and through other means of communication for those not present. We look forward to seeing you on June 1st and welcome all comments and suggestions.

 

If you have any imput you would like to share, please feel free to email Briget Reilly at BrigetReillyHTA@gmail.com.

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