In a March 29 letter addressed to Holyoke Superintendent David Dupont, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) expressed concern regarding the progress of the Dean Vocational School which is currently a Level 4 school. Level 4 schools are those among the bottom 20% of schools serving common grades statewide. In 2011, 39% of Dean students achieved proficiency on the English Language Arts portion of the MCAS while 37% were proficient in math. Less than a quarter of the students expected to graduate in four years or less did so in 2011. Since being named a Level 4 school, Dean has been managed by the Northampton based non-profit agency the Collaborative for Educational Services. Specific concerns cited by the DESE included a lack of effective leadership to establish a turnaround plan and classroom instruction that lacked high expectations.
Dean does face a number of challenges to raising student achievement including a population which is 33.3% Limited English Proficiency and 72.9% First Language not English. Additionally, 41.2% of students have been classified as special education. The average number of absences in 2010-11 was 25.8 days while the attendance rate was just 83.2% (compared to 94.7% for the state). The Collaborative has stated that many of the criticisms have been or are being addressed and questioned how such criticisms about the school's progress could be made with less than a year under the agency's leadership. Mayor Alex Morse stated that he believed it was too soon to pass judgement on the non-profit's turnaround efforts.