Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester today appointed Jessica L. Huizenga, Cambridge Public Schools' assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, to be the receiver for the Southbridge Public Schools.
Dr. Huizenga has been an educator since she graduated from college and has worked in districts in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas and South Carolina. She started as a middle and high school history teacher and later served as a principal and district administrator who worked with teachers to align curriculum, target professional development and improve student achievement.
In Cambridge, she led the district's first comprehensive curriculum review and development process, led the district's instructional improvement strategy, established the district's first district-wide professional development conference and worked with the local teachers' union to redesign the district's new teacher induction. Before coming to Cambridge in 2013, she was interim superintendent of the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District.
"Jessica Huizenga is an accomplished and experienced educator who has dedicated her career to working with teachers to ensure that students receive a strong education," Commissioner Chester said. "After the Local Stakeholder Group draws up its recommendations, Jessica and I will develop a Southbridge turnaround plan that she will implement with educators, parents, community members and students."
"Dr. Huizenga has a strong record of improving the schools and districts where she has worked, and I am pleased that she is bringing her skills to Southbridge," said Secretary of Education James Peyser. "We look forward to working with her to ensure the success of all children in the Southbridge Public Schools."
Over the course of 19 years in education, Dr. Huizenga has worked in several states and in both urban and suburban districts in Massachusetts. Her work around curriculum and instruction has included bringing technology to districts and helping educators use data to check on students' progress.
"Dr. Huizenga's belief that adults, working together, can significantly improve outcomes for students will serve Southbridge well," said Paul Sagan, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. "The Board looks forward to supporting her commitment to improving the public school opportunities for all of the students in the community, many of whom have been underserved by the district in recent years."
Before becoming interim superintendent in Freetown-Lakeville in 2012, Dr. Huizenga was assistant superintendent of the district. In that capacity, she implemented instructional rounds district-wide, co-facilitated the district technology committee and implemented Response to Intervention and a student performance system to track student data and monitor the progress of elementary school students.
"I am excited to serve Southbridge students, and I look forward to building on the strengths already present in the district," Dr. Huizenga said. "I hope that educators, parents, students and the community will see this as an opportunity to build stronger schools together."
Earlier in her career, Dr. Huizenga was principal of Blanchard Middle School in Westford, principal of the Robert Adams Middle School in Holliston, and assistant principal of Randolph Community Middle School in Randolph. She taught history in Plymouth, Mass.; Allentown, N.J.; Rockwall, Texas and Abbeville, S.C.
Dr. Huizenga holds a bachelor of arts degree in history from Erskine College in South Carolina; a master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell; and a doctorate in education, also from UMass Lowell.
Commissioner Chester will remain the receiver until Dr. Huizenga's appointment takes effect on May 2, 2016, although she will spend days in the district before then. As receiver, Dr. Huizenga will be a state employee based in Southbridge and report directly to Commissioner Chester. Dr. Huizenga's annual salary will be $175,000.
The Achievement Gap Act of 2010 provided the legal framework for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's January 26, 2016 vote to designate Southbridge Public Schools a Level 5 ("chronically underperforming") district and place the district into receivership.
Under the statute, the commissioner and receiver will develop a Level 5 District Turnaround Plan that will include district priorities and strategies to accelerate achievement with measurable benchmarks connected directly to improvement for all Southbridge students. A local stakeholder group has already begun meeting and will offer recommendations on the plan's content.