The Gateway Cities Journal
News and information for leaders who care about Gateway Cities


Thinking deeper about our response to Holyoke


The state takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools is a clear sign that Massachusetts needs a dramatically different approach to educating students living in Gateway Cities and other communities with exceptionally high concentrations of poverty. Despite enormous effort from dedicated education reformers, test scores and graduation rates in our poorest public school districts remain disturbingly low. The concentration of low-income students into high poverty schools has become a major driver of the growing income inequality in our Commonwealth.


Massachusetts made an honest effort to eliminate wealth-based disparities in educational opportunity by developing one of the country's most progressive education funding formulas in 1993. In communities like Holyoke, per pupil spending is now about the same as the state average. But simply pushing state support through a formula so these districts can spend the same amount of money as more affluent communities is clearly not going to get students growing up in high-poverty environments where they need to be. To address this problem, Massachusetts must develop a new three-pronged strategy for the relatively small subset of communities that serve a large majority of the state's most disadvantaged students.


The first prong of this strategy would help these high-need communities provide additional learning time. Today's knowledge industries require workers with much higher skills than in the past. Getting all children up to these standards means giving them more learning opportunities than our traditional 6-hour, 180 days per year, K through 12 public education affords. Families with means do this with high-quality preschool and extracurricular activities after school, on the weekends, and over the summer months. Low-income students must have the same high-quality early learning opportunities and expanded learning time in school during their K through 12 years. If we want to close the achievement gap, there is simply no way around providing these additional learning opportunities.


Atthesame time, the state must help low-income communities find more systemic solutions to systemic problems. Children can't learn well if they are threatened by violence in their neighborhoods, if substandard housing exposes them to toxins, if family instability regularly uproots them-addressing these problems, while providing the additional learning opportunities described above, will require significant resources. With the fiscal constraints we face, the only way to marshal these resources will be through a more holistic approach that positions communities to make hard tradeoffs.


For instance, it may not make sense to build new affordable housing at $400,000 per unit when the same dollars could go further stabilizing families in their current housing and addressing serious building code violations. Similarly, dollars spent sending students that aren't prepared to community colleges might do greater good providing more children with access to high-quality early learning. Communities need flexibility and strong incentives to repurpose funds when reallocation can produce better outcomes.


And this is where the third prong comes in: the state needs to help Gateway Cities and other communities with high-poverty schools develop a much fuller accountability structure than currently exists. It can't just be the school district on the hook. Community colleges, community hospitals and health centers, workforce development boards, housing agencies, and nonprofits should all bear responsibility, and not for just K through 12 academic performance, but for social and emotional development, and success beyond high school.


If this sounds overly ambitious compared to the 1993 reform law, we've set our sights too low. Massachusetts led the way two decades ago with progressive funding and rigorous accountability, but today communities across the globe are doing us one better with data-driven decision-making, design thinking, and collaborative impact. Meanwhile, we're struggling to update our 1993 funding formula and fighting PARCC vs. MCAS.


In this moment of stasis, the Holyoke takeover offers perhaps our best opportunity to demonstrate a bold new direction. Lawrence, which preceded Holyoke into receivership in 2011, has demonstrated how giving school leaders flexibility around the structure of teacher contracts and curriculum frees them up to deliver instruction more effectively. Holyoke could go one step further, showing how working together across the entire community can produce a learning environment in which all children thrive.


          - Ben Forman



Housing & Economic Development


Construction on a new $50 million sports complex and convention center in an old Attleboro industrial park will begin soon.  


Martignetti Cos. wine and spirits distributor purchased 115 acres in a Taunton industrial park to build a new headquarters.


Worcester holds an official ribbon cutting on a $40 million innovation center, a low-cost space for entrepreneurs to work, collaborate, and start local businesses. 


New Bedford unveils a new energy program to help homeowners and small businesses access cheaper electricity.


Urban planning students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design present innovative redevelopment proposals for various Revere properties.


A busy week in Quincy: City officials look into how they can rebrand their community to attract tourists, residents, and businesses. Mayor Thomas Koch says a revised federal flood zone plan will eliminate the requirement for flood insurance premiums for more than 700 homeowners. About 200 labor union members protest in front of City Hall calling for the contractors in the downtown redevelopment project to hire more union workers.


In a Lowell Sun column, Joe Kriesberg urges Bay Staters to take advantage of the Community Investment Tax Credit to support high-impact, community-led economic development projects.


The May issue of Economic Development Quarterly focuses on older industrial cities, including an entry from Yolanda Kodrzycki, the Director of the Boston Fed's New England Public Policy Center. As a long-time leading thinker on Gateway City issues, Yolanda is well-known to many readers of this journal. She retires this month. We wish her well and thank her for all of her contributions! 




The state education board holds a forum in Holyoke and hears a lot of opposition from residents about putting the schools into receivership. The next day the board votes 8-3 to move forward with the state takeover. CommonWealth's new spring issue offers an in-depth look at the 2010 state law under which schools are put in receivership.


ERS Strategies releases a report looking at lessons-learned from the Lawrence receivership.


Quincy College plans to offer four-year degree programs, a move the city council says it backs fully. 


A new Brookings report ranks colleges based on the earnings of their graduates. A quick glance at the Massachusetts data shows wide variation among community colleges, with Quincy College, Mass Bay, and STCC leading the way.


The journal Education and Urban Society looks at how teachers can subvert unconscious racial and ethnic bias by integrating content on equity into mathematics instruction.




Mayor Dean Mazarella of Leominster announces that the Department of Revenue has certified the city's free cash for 2014 and it is a record high -- $8.9 million.


The Salem News says Gov. Charlie Baker is on the right track to building up trust with cities and towns.


The Worcester Municipal Research Bureau draws attention to the city's $727 million unfunded OPEB liability.


Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus receives praise from city leaders for his new diversity report highlighting ways local government can better serve and represent communities of color-including the creation of a Summer Youth Corps to provide part-time city government jobs.


Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt says he wants his community to get educated about a proposed gas pipeline in the city, and is concerned about how much control local authorities will be given in decision making.


Anthony Soto, the Holyoke city councilor married to outgoing Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, announces his run for the top slot currently held by Alex Morse. The formal campaign kick-off is scheduled for May 21.




Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera hosts a community meeting to discuss the local impact of a 2024 Boston Olympics.


Brockton and New Bedford gear up for city-wide votes on proposed casinos, both eyeing the single Southeastern Massachusetts license. 


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