WESTFIELD – Several schools will get a boost in technology, others in art and music, while the district as a whole focuses on career and college readiness with new pathways for learning, according to Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski and his administrative team this week.
One week before school opens for most grades on Aug. 29, Czaporowski, Susan Dargie, director of curriculum and instruction, Christopher J. Rogers, administrator of student interventions and safety and Denise Ruszala, director of assessment and accountability met to discuss some of the things going on in WPS.
Over the past three years, the district has purchased 3,511 Google Chromebooks, and transferred to Google Classroom, a program that allows teachers and students to communicate, give out assignments, return assignments, and look at what’s ahead.
Starting this September, Westfield Middle School will be a fully 1:1 school, meaning every student will be given a device, giving students access to the website, frequently asked questions and other resources, as well as linking them to the curriculum at the school.
“The 1:1 device is assigned to the student, and teaches responsibility,” Ruszala said. “What we have designed for WMS; the whole process will be replicated at Westfield Intermediate School in January.”
“As we look at instructional resources at the fifth to eighth grade level, the focus is on digital resources, especially in the 1:1 schools. Every student doesn’t need a print copy of texts. We’re making the shift at the site level, driving the decisions we’re making for purchases and practices,” said Dargie.
For students that may not have access to a computer at home, there are resources available at the Athenaeum and the Boys & Girls Club, which is also expanding its technology piece, Czaporowski said.
“Teachers and principals find out which students don’t have access at home, and make accommodations,” Dargie said.
Czaporowski said teachers are also not being left out of the technology boon. “We’ve already purchased 318 Chromebooks for teachers, and more will be getting new devices. Over the last three years, we have dedicated so much to technology. We’ve caught up and will start surpassing other districts,” he said.
Dargie said the staff has been preparing for many of the changes since the day school ended in June.
“Lots of work was being done over the summer,” she said, giving as an example the Google Summer Camp for teachers. Forty teachers got to choose classes from four different instructors according to their level of comfort and proficiency; in Google classroom, applications for education, or the basics.
“Teachers were able to self-select from the Google Suite for Education,” Dargie said.
Three additional technology teachers are being added to elementary schools who will be incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) modules and virtual classroom experiences for students. Dargie said some of the elementary schools already are equipped with 1:1 devices.
Czaporowski said Westfield Middle School was also awarded $40,000 for new middle school curriculum, called “Gateway,” where they will implement three courses in “Design & Modeling,” “Automation & Robotics,” and “Computer Science for Innovators and Makers” as part of an overall $97,500 “Project Lead the Way” grant to the district.
Westfield High School was awarded $50,000 to start a new engineering pathway.
A $7,500 grant was awarded to Franklin Avenue Elementary School to pilot the elementary school curriculum, called “Launch,” where students in kindergarten to fourth grade will engage in hands-on activities in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.
For Project Lead the Way, elementary, middle and high school teachers received intensive training at Worcester Polytechnic Institute over the summer. The classes will support the new engineering pathway in the high school, and technology courses for all levels.
Rogers said through another grant, a US First Lego League (robotics) will start as an after school program in grades 5 to 8.
The district has introduced several new pathways for students, besides engineering. Another $57,500 grant will offer a health care pathway at WHS, which Czaporowski said is the highest need area in the country. WHS will also offer criminal justice and hospitality classes.
At Westfield Technical Academy, electronics will be offered as a separate Chapter 74 program under the Internet Technology shop. TV & radio programming will also be offered as a pathway under Graphic Arts.
“Our goal is for students to be career and college ready,” Czaporowski said. As part of that goal, students who want to get work experience, now apply for internships instead of work study through the Career Center and its partnership with MassHire.
In order to participate, Students must develop a work-based learning plan and take “Signal Success,” an abbreviated 20-hour course on essential skills such as showing up to work on time, which prepares them for the workplace. He said the schools are exposing students to more careers, so they have an idea of what they might like to do, and the district’s involvement in the Westfield Education to Business Alliance (WE2BA) is part of that.
They have also expanded Westfield Promise this year, with double the amount of students who are able to take college level courses. Czaporowski said the program continues to be at no cost to students and gives them the opportunity to earn college credit.
“We are opening that door up to more students, and we want to continue to expand that,” he said.
Czaporowski said at the budget meeting, someone suggested that the district is cutting art and music.
“Last year, we added a music teacher and started band in the fourth grade,” he said, adding that previously students didn’t take band until the fifth grade. He said they have also added an additional half-time art and half-time music teacher for grades K-4.
Administrators also received professional development training over the summer, with two days on cultural responsiveness regarding LBGTQ youth and immigrant youth. Dargie said 100 educators also participated in a Teen Dating Violence session.
“Our first goal is relationship building — keeping our students engaged in learning,” Czaporowski said, adding that you don’t find out when students are having difficulties until you have built a strong relationship with them.
Ruszala said the district has reorganized the central offices.
“We now have Central Registration on the first floor of the district offices. Chris (Rogers) and I meet all of the families. The first floor of our offices is all family resources,” she said.
The superintendent said the administrative team is also building on relationships with the teachers. They no longer hold a district-wide convocation with teachers at the start of school. Instead, as they did last year, the team will visit every school and meet face to face with the staff team.
“We’re able to go and meet with them as a staff, and have facetime with every team. We as educators need to make positive relationships with our students, so they want to learn, and want to come to school. We want to make sure they come to school,” Czaporowski said.
The first day of school for grades 1 to 12 is Aug. 29. Kindergarten starts Sept. 5, and pre-school starts Sept. 9.
Czaporowski said enrollment this fall is higher than expected, with the numbers exceeding the state projections.
“We had to add a couple of kindergarten classes at Paper Mill and Highland,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of families moving back to Westfield,” Ruszala said.