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Mass. Taps Former Boston and Chicago Administrator to Run Holyoke District

A veteran educator with experience improving schools in Boston and Chicago was named as the receiver in charge of the school system in Holyoke, Mass., the struggling district that was taken over by the state in April.  

As receiver, Stephen K. Zrike, Jr., will wield the combined authorities of a superintendent and the school board, and he will be tasked with boosting performance in a school district that has some of the worst outcomes in the state.

When Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner for elementary and secondary education, recommended earlier this year that Holyoke be placed under receivership, he said that students were being harmed by the education they received in the district. One-in-3 students read at grade level; 1-in-4 did math at grade level; and 1-in-5 had received an out-of-school suspension in the past year, according to the state.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education  voted in April to declare Holyoke a "chronically underperforming" Level 5 district—the lowest level in Massachusetts—making it the second district in the state to be placed in receivership. The first was Lawrence in 2011.

Zrike has been the superintendent of schools in Wakefield, Mass., since 2013, and he has prior experience improving struggling schools in large urban districts.

As a network chief in Chicago, from 2011 through 2013, he led improvements in 26 K-8 schools, according to the Massachusetts education department. Ninety-six percent of the student population across those 26 schools was Latino, and 92 percent of those students came from low-income families. Forty-percent were English-language learners. Zrike also led turnaround efforts at two schools in the city of Boston, according to the state.

Zrike has a history of increasing participation by parents, educators and other partners in the districts in which he's worked. And like many students in Holyoke, he is bilingual—the son of Cuban mother, he grew up speaking Spanish at home, according to the state. (MassLive.com reported that at the press conference announcing his appointment, Zrike started his remarks in Spanish.)

"Stephen Zrike's work in Boston and Chicago shows his dedication to urban students and his understanding of how to improve schools," Chester said in a statement Monday.

Zrike, who worked as a teacher, principal, leadership coach, and administrator before becoming superintendent, will take over from Chester as receiver on July 6 and will be paid $185,000 a year.

"I am honored by this opportunity to serve Holyoke students, and I am eager to engage educators, parents and the community in this work," Zrike said. "Turnaround efforts are challenging, and we will need everyone's support and participation if we are to offer all Holyoke students a better future."

The state is in the process of developing a turnaround plan for the district in consultation with a local stakeholder group, made up the mayor, school administrators, parents, teachers, representative from the business and higher education communities and a recent graduate. 

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