WESTFIELD – When asked what positive developments might have come from this very difficult year for schools, Westfield Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said that 2020 pushed the district forward towards a goal they’ve had for many years.
“The first part is that technology because this is now more entrenched in education than ever, and it will never go back to the way it was. Everyone’s technology skills have improved. It will certainly enhance the educational experience moving forward,” he said, adding that before this year, he didn’t even know what Zoom was.
Czaporowski said when the schools closed in March, they were as prepared as they could be, because they had been transitioning toward using Chromebooks with Google Suite already.
“This pushed everybody there. Now teachers can meet with parents over Google Meet. The communication with parents has increased, and that’s going to last,” he said, adding that teachers can also conduct IEP meetings over Google Meet or Zoom with families. “It’s an extra tool that we can use that people are now familiar with.”
Czaporowski has also been impressed with the community stepping up to purchase more Chromebooks and technology. The district just received an additional 1,600 Chromebooks last week due to CARES Act funding, and they also used other grant money differently to purchase additional Chromebooks.
“By the end of this school year, we will be 1:1 (one device for every student), something we’ve been wanting to do since I became Superintendent. We didn’t have one Chromebook when I started. Now we have close to 5,000,” Czaporowski said.
The Adopt a Student Technology drive started by former Mayor Brian Sullivan and Sonia Brockney raised almost $30,000, with an early gift of $15,000 from Westfield Gas & Electric to ensure that all students in the community had internet access. Westfield G&E then donated another $35,000 for technology in the district.
“I’m very impressed. I love working in Westfield, partly because of the generosity exhibited by the community towards our students. They care. It’s a great thing,” Czaporowski said.
Czaporowski said moving forward, while most students do not prefer the online learning model exclusively, there are a number of students who do. “We have to provide that option to students and families moving forward permanently.”
The district is working on developing a remote learning option to offer students post-pandemic. “If we don’t offer it, and families prefer it, then they have other options, and we want them to stay with us,” he said, adding, “This has affected education. It will never be the same.”
The district’s number one goal moving forward is to get students back in school. Czaporowski said he thinks if the vaccine is having a positive effect, that before the end of the school year, they will be able to have all of the students back.
Teachers are included in phase two of the vaccine rollout, which runs from February to April. Czaporowski said the district will be working closely with the Health Department and following their recommendations on vaccines.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to come back on Jan. 19. It’s important for people to realize that we follow the guidance so we can keep our schools open,” he said.
Czaporowski said all school districts are doing the best they can given the circumstances. He also had high praise for the staff and students.
“Our staff has been terrific and flexible, and have stepped up for our students. Not only is it important, it is very appreciated,” he said.
“Our kids have learned life lessons. No generation alive has experienced anything like this. The fact that our students have been able to endure and still learn throughout all of this is important to recognize. I know the social interaction isn’t what it was, and we need to get back there, but considering the situation, our staff and students have done the best they can,” Czaporowski added.