DESE to review Westfield English learner program

Denise Ruszala, Director of Assessment and Accountability for Westfield Public Schools. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – During the week of Nov. 23 , the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) Office of Language Acquisition will conduct a scheduled review of the English learners program in the Westfield Public School District.

Denise Ruszala, director of Assessment and Accountability for the district, said the review actually began last winter, when the district did a self assessment of the 17 compliance areas under review. Ruszala said the review team was supposed to come onsite in May, but cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, they will conduct virtual interviews with Ruszala and EL teacher Susan Moore to ask questions about the submitted documentation.

The Tiered Focused Monitoring Review, as it is called, examines each district and charter school every six years to monitor compliance with federal and state English learner education laws and regulations. Areas of review will include English learners’ student assessments; identification of English learners; what programs English learners are placed in; parent and community involvement; curriculum and instruction; student support services; licensure requirements for faculty, staff and administration; program plans; and evaluation and recordkeeping.

“We submitted a ton of documents, so I think they feel comfortable not doing more extensive interviews,” said Ruszala, who has been overseeing English learner programs since 2004, first in Chicopee and then Westfield. She said this is her sixth audit during that time.

Currently, there are 260 English learner students in the district, 130 at the elementary level. This year, there are 40 new students, 25 of them in kindergarten. Ruszala said that number is slightly lower, usually averaging 35 in kindergarten. The majority of the students speak Russian and Spanish as their first language, with smaller numbers of Arabic and Nepali speakers.

Part of the review process is a random selection of student records. Last spring, the team reviewed 25 student records, and this fall selected another five to review. The district sent a letter to those parents which was translated in their own languages explaining the review process, along with a survey about the program that they were asked to complete.

“What I did in addition was have translators call them and explain that it’s just part of a process as a result of review,” Ruszala said, so families would not get nervous about the letters.

Parents and other individuals may call David Valade, Office of Language Acquisition Review Chairperson, at (781) 338- 6711 to request a telephone interview. If an individual requires an accommodation, such as translation, to participate in an interview, DESE will make the necessary arrangements.

Ruszala said Westfield has made sure that English learners have not been left behind since the pandemic. “We’ve worked really hard with families to make sure they are able to log in, and we’ve provided the technology. Families in need of internet access have been provided with chromebooks with wireless access. We feel really good about that,” she said.

Translators and paras have also made sure they’ve reached out to all families with Google classroom. “By now the kids are doing okay, they’re comfortable. In the beginning it was a challenge, but we’ve done a really good job with that,” Ruszala said.

In addition, now that students are back in school with phases, the lowest level English speakers are in school daily, which Ruszala said is an advantage. Out of the 265 EL students, well over half of them that are on a lower level of proficiency, are in school every day. They also have ESL teachers for students who are learning remotely to provide them with the required minutes of instruction. Ruszala said there are 23 fully remote EL students at the elementary level that are taught remotely by Susan Moore.

Within approximately 60 business days of the interview process, the review chairperson will provide Westfield Public Schools with a report with information about areas in which the district meets or exceeds regulatory requirements and areas in which the district requires assistance to correct or improve practices.
Ruszala said they will give feedback on all the areas, and will rate the district as commendable, implemented, implementation in progress, partially implemented or not implemented. She said any program area below the implemented rating will get a corrective action plan to put in place by the end of the year.

Once completed, the report will be available to the public at

“I’m very comfortable with it. Once you go through it, you know the areas you need to have proper documentation and parent outreach. So when you do go through the audit, it’s not a (hard) process. You just have to follow the regulations,” Ruszala said.

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