Admin Interview: HHS North and Dean news, Dr. Mahoney to become Director of School Leadership for HPS, Mrs. McKenna and Mr. Gates to become Campus Principals


Patrick Sweeney, News Editor

This is an article launching this years’ monthly interviews The Herald will be holding with Holyoke High School administration from both the North and Dean Campuses.  Last year Dr. Mahoney held interviews and podcasts with Herald Staff, and additionally Lori McKenna and Al Gates will do the same this school year.  Interviews will expand to monthly video podcasts with administration on The Herald YouTube Channel.

The time of remote learning has provided many challenges for the students at both Holyoke High School North and Dean campuses. Students on both campuses are operating on different learning models. Many students are taking part in remote learning, while others are continuing to do in-person learning. Communication can be a key issue during these times. It can be hard to get the word out to the HHS community about events and news since everyone has different schedules. There has been a variety of news and events going on that everyone should know about to stay involved in the community.

Holyoke High School opened their Campus Learning Centers on November 30th. These centers were created to provide students with a quiet space to participate in remote learning. The spaces that students work in have good internet and Wi-Fi connection. This solves a major issue that many students face. Some students have had difficulty connecting to Zoom calls during the day. They might not have a good connection in their home. They might have siblings or parents/guardians that are also using the Internet, which leads to a decrease in Wi-Fi speed. These learning centers provide students with a stress-free environment to get their work done. Lori McKenna, who is the Campus Principal at HHS North, stated that fourteen students came to the school on the first day for the Campus Learning Centers. She also stated that HHS alumni came back to the school to help students out. For example, some students from the Class of 2018 were present to help students with technology and classes. The Campus Learning Centers proved successful on the Dean campus as well. Alan Gates, who is the High School Campus Principal at Dean, stated that students are “grateful” for the opportunity to work in a school environment and to get help with technology. He said that six students came to the Dean campus and participated in the Learning Centers, which are being held in the gym. Alumni were also present on the Dean campus. Some Class of 2019 students were there to help students.

The administrators on both campuses have been trying their hardest to stay connected with their students. McKenna stated that she is “staying connected in as many ways as she can.” She stated that she participated in the “Squad-lympics and a movie trivia game.” She also made a video with the Seniors about the Ice Bucket challenge, which was posted on social media. McKenna stated that she appreciates the fact that people are remaining positive during these challenging times. She said that it “shapes culture.” McKenna also stated that there are many events that teachers are doing to stay in touch with their students. For example, Mr. Todd and his students are designing a Christmas card for the city of Holyoke. McKenna also stated that the “theater company is doing the production of Alice and Wonderland,” which will be made into a movie. Lastly, the academies at HHS North have also been hosting a series of town halls. For example, the Engineering and Life Sciences academy hosted a town hall with UMass professors in which they had a paper airplane competition. McKenna applauded the teachers for coming up with this event, saying they are “creating meaningful, authentic experiences that keeps students connected.” Gates has also been trying to keep in touch with all of the students. He stated that he organized an event that partnered “half of ninth graders with a student mentor over social media.” He said that this helps the Freshman because many of them have questions about school or their classes. He also said that being ninth graders, they have had “such a limited experience in high school” so it is good that they can have conversations with older students. 

The topic of remote learning has been a hot topic of discussion between administrators on both the North and Dean campuses. When asked “How can remote learning be fixed?” McKenna replied that student attendance has been positive but grades have not been so good. She said that students “should not be afraid to ask for help.” She also said students should speak up because teachers “do not know what to do” – they cannot read a student’s mind if they are having trouble with something. Gates added that students still have challenges during in-person learning because they are “in bubbles at school.” Dr. Stephen Mahoney, the new Director of School Leadership for Holyoke Public Schools, replied to this answer by saying, “Any way we can increase human contact is going to have an impact on people’s ability to communicate well with teachers.” He also added that there has to be a way to “connect kids outside of blocks A-H.” McKenna also added that students are feeling supported by their teachers and that there has been an increase in the number of students attending teacher office hours between 1:30 and 3 pm. She also said that students are feeling that live classes are going by very quickly. They feel “pressure” because of this. However, more students are “starting to adjust a little bit more” to remote learning. 

Gates had many positive things to say about both remote and in-person learning on the Dean campus. He stated that there is “one day per week for every grade level for on-campus vocational training,” from 7 to 1 in the shop. He also said that “between 70 and 90 percent of students show up on any given day.” There are also opportunities for students to participate in vocational training in the afternoon in small groups. All nine of the shops are participating in this program. Gates also said that remote learning is going well for students at Dean. He said that campus leaders monitoring remote learning have felt the learning is “interactive and fun” and that breakout rooms on Zoom are “working effectively.” He also added that the “Help Assisting Program is still pursuing co-op. Students acquire experience and earn money. We are still in partnership with this group.” Gates had one more thing to add about the Dean campus. He said that there was a high percentage of students who passed all of their classes for the first term, which wrapped up on November 13th. He stated that “79% of sophomores passed, 83% of juniors passed and 68% of seniors passed. He cited the hard work of the students and teachers, saying that “we are proud of the work our ‘remote & on campus’ teachers, staff and students are putting in to keep students engaged and learning during this unprecedented time!”

The students at Holyoke High School took a Panorama survey a few weeks ago. The purpose of this survey was for students to say how remote/in-person learning has been going. Mahoney stated a few takeaways from the survey results, saying that the “score that felt most concerning was that 9 percent of students felt connected to other students, compared to 80 percent feeling connected to at least one adult.” He said this is something “they want to figure out.” 

There have been between 70 and 80 seniors chosen to receive the John and Abigail Adams scholarship. There is going to be a virtual event before winter break to honor them and their achievements. 

The issue of turning cameras on has been a topic of discussion between teachers at Holyoke High School. Mahoney stated that he met with the focus group and staff recently about this issue. They are working on a draft of a plan that includes a district-wide initiative “requiring students to have cameras on at select moments of the class.” For example, students might be required to turn their cameras on at the beginning of class, before going to breakout rooms and at the end of class. He said that it is important for teachers to know whether or not students are “ready for the next part of class.” He also said that “what has become clear based on students’ perspectives is a balance between home privacy and being engaged in classes.”

There are going to be two sports seasons going on at HHS this school year. Examples of sports that students can get involved in are boys and girls basketball and swimming. Mahoney stated that “swim numbers have been down” and that they are “looking for students to come out for the swim team.” He compared swimming to cross country, saying that “everyone plays every single game. Everyone’s a winner if they beat their previous time. It is something that they can do for the rest of their lives.” Mahoney also stated that there are some “online fitness challenges with middle school students” that high schoolers can participate in.These students can “co-teach with Coach Pell.”

Two weeks ago, seniors on the North Campus participated in the “Early College Admissions and Financial Aid Fair,” hosted by Ms. Rigali and Mary Colon, one of the school’s Gear Up advisors. This event will be occurring for Dean students in the second week of December.

There have been some major leadership changes at both Holyoke High School North and Dean campuses. Dr. Vazquez Matos has moved Dr. Mahoney from Executive Principal to “Director of School Leadership” for the entire HPS district. He has moved away from being in charge of both North and Dean campuses. Lori McKenna and Alan Gates have been moved to the “Campus Principal” roles at HHS North and Dean, respectively. This means that McKenna and Gates will be running their respective schools. 

Holyoke High School may look different this year, but it does not mean there has been a lack of events and news going on. The community has been forming strong connections by doing virtual events and competitions. New policies have been discussed to ensure that all students are participating in classes. Also, principals have been changing roles during the school year. Even though there is a mix of in-person and remote learning taking place at HHS, there is not a lack of communication. We are all in it together and we are using these events and changes to become stronger as a school community.  As Helen Keller once said, “Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much.”