Western Massachusetts to benefit from Latino Advisory Commission's work, local members say

Date Published: 
October 25, 2018
Author: 
Elizabeth Roman
News Type: 
Latino leaders representing Western Massachusetts said they are confident recommendations made by Gov. Charlie Baker's Latino Advisory Commission will enable funding for programs and services to help those living in Springfield, Holyoke and other communities in this part of the state.
 
On Tuesday Baker pledged, if re-elected, to spend $10 million to $12 million in the fiscal 2020 budget implementing the recommendations, ranging from policy changes to investments related to immigration, education and business. 
 
Samalid M. Hogan, director and Western Massachusetts regional officer of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, has served on the commission since it was established in 2017.
 
She said the commission held listening sessions across the state, including in Springfield and Holyoke, to hear the concerns of local leaders, teachers, parents and other residents.
 
"Our goal was to make sure that all of the things we heard in the listening sessions and all of the concerns the community had were reflected in the final recommendations made to the governor," said Hogan, one of three Western Massachusetts members of the 26-person commission.
 
The other Western Massachusetts commissioners are Vanessa Otero, chief operating officer of Partners for Community in Springfield, and Sonia Pope, principal of Holyoke Community Charter School.
 
"There is still work to be done," said Otero, who also attended the announcement in Boston. "I look forward to working with the Baker administration to ensure the implementation of best practices."
 
The commission's recommendations include recruiting and training Latino teachers, improving early literacy programs in low-income communities, recruiting Latino high school students for college preparatory programs, and strengthening career planning in urban schools.
 
Springfield and Holyoke schools for many years have faced challenges related to graduation rates, standardized testing scores and literacy.
 
On Oct. 7, Jeffrey Riley, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, attended a meeting at Morgan Elementary School in Holyoke where he was asked by residents to make sure more bilingual staff are hired at many of the city's struggling schools.
 
Stephen K. Zrike, state-appointed receiver in charge of the city's public schools, said Latino students are still struggling.
 
"We cannot be OK with 33 percent of our students not graduating from high school or that even with improved numbers approximately 80 Latino students drop out of our schools every single year," he said during the meeting. "We need to be outraged that achievement levels for Latinos in math and English language arts are among the lowest in the state. Our suspension rates for Latino males are among the highest in the state."
 
Zrike said the district has 15 to 20 percent teachers of color. "Our staff needs to better reflect the population we serve," he said, referring to the district's 80 percent Latino student population.
 
If the state commission's recommendations are funded, money is set to go toward successful existing programs.
 
"The goal is to find those programs that are currently working and delivering outcomes and expanding those programs rather than just funding everything across the boards, which happens a lot," Hogan said. "Sometimes we fund programs because they have been around for a long time, but we are not really looking at what the actual outcomes and results have been."
 
State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield, said the Latino community needs the investment.
 
"When a community is recognized, that community will respond, and that's what this commission has done," he said.