Superintendent Scallion visits ‘The Westfield News Radio Show’

WESTFIELD – Patrick Berry’s guest on Thursday morning’s The Westfield News Radio Show, part of the WSKB Community Radio lineup, was Dr. Suzanne Scallion, Superintendent of Westfield Public Schools. Scallion was upbeat about her hopes and dreams for the district, and offered some practical money-saving ideas for the next several years. She also expressed her appreciation for the coverage of the schools by The Westfield News.
Scallion started off by answering questions about the budget process, with Berry asking if it ever ended. Scallion said her budget was done in February, but wasn’t finalized until June 30 when the state budget was signed, and $400,000 in additional cuts were made. Scallion said most of the cuts were on the technology side, because the district is looking for a tech bond.
“We have to push this agenda,” Scallion said about upgrading the technology in the Westfield schools. “Our kids are behind.”
Scallion spoke about some of the successful tech projects in the schools.
“The PTO in Southampton Road School put a Smart Board in every classroom,” she said.
She said they are using the Envision Math program which brings math to life on the boards.
“The teacher taps the board to see the math computation come to life in the real world.”
She added that Southampton Road scores in math are superior to those of everyone else in the city.
Scallion said she wants to see technology like this in every school in the district, adding that there are much cheaper interactive boards out there.
“We’ve got to become a Tier I school district,” she said.
When asked about pre-school, Scallion said, “I’m all in.” She said pre-school costs roughly $10,000 a year for families. Some of her ideas include an earlier kindergarten start, and a two-year kindergarten. Westfield now has an August 1 cutoff for kindergarten, which is the earliest in the state.
Currently, Fort Meadow School is the only pre-school in the district, with a mix of 200 special needs and tuition students enrolled.
“We absolutely need a second pre-school,” Scallion said. “We do not have pre-school for all the families in the city. We really need to keep looking at that.”
Berry brought up the current debate about refugees and the sanctuary bill, and asked about refugee students in Westfield.
“We had twelve new students coming in this past week, many from Lutheran Social Services,” Scallion said. “Since July 1, we’ve had to hire two new ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers. We lost one last year. Now I’m looking for another position for the twelve newcomers.”
Scallion said the new students are Bhutanese from Nepal, Russian, Ukrainian, and of Arabic descent. She said they learn English quickly and only get support in their native language for one year or less. She said there are 200 students right now at Highland Elementary, the site for teaching ESL. She gave a shout out to Mary Claire Manning, the new principal at Highland.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve hired all 15 principals, most from within,” Scallion said, saying she was very proud of all 15 of them. Berry mentioned Dennis Duquette, who has taken over for Jonathan Carter at the high school, moving over from South Middle School.
“Jonathan resigned, and is pursuing law school,” she said. “He did some amazing things for the academic program at the high school.”
Scallion said Carter was an agent for change, and the high school “is ready for a settling agent.”
“We were lucky to have Dennis to move over,” she said.
She said she was also happy to make Justin Baker the new principal of South.
“We’re grooming the next generation of leaders right here in Westfield,” she said.
Berry said he attended Westfield High School open house last week, at the end of a 100 adegree day. He said it was very hot in the evening, and can’t imagine how hot it was during the day.
Scallion said there is a temperature range that is considered acceptable, but “our buildings were too hot last week. Can we keep them safe in the heat? Yes. Can we keep them learning the heat? Their energy is sapped,” she said.
Scallion said a lot of the buildings are old.
“We have to figure out how we’re going to improve HVAC,” she said.
Berry asked about Russell Elementary. Scallion said she is “not a fan of sending out kids out of the district.” But, she added, Russell is “a precious gem right at the base of a mountain.” She talked about its beautiful location and modern facility.
“All said, we’re very lucky that we can borrow it for a few years,” she said.
Scallion said there are lots of good things happening in Westfield. She said the number of students passing advanced placement at the high school went from 116 to 169 in one year.
“We’ve seen the preliminary MCAS results, pockets of excellence,” she said, adding that the K-3 kids are showing very strong growth in literacy and math. When pressed, Scallion said the MCAS results aren’t available yet.
Scallion said another bright spot is in special education. She said the number of students going outside of Westfield for services is 50 percent of other districts, and students are beginning to choice-in for Westfield’s new special needs programs, which brings revenue to the district. She also noted the great partnership with Westfield State University.
Scallion also pointed to the new aviation program at Westfield Technical Academy, and other amazing shops there.
“My next hope is to bring a new shop that will really bring in the young women,” she said.
Other changes being considered include changing the starting time for the high school and elementary schools, which could have a positive impact on busing schedules and the school budget. Right now, Westfield has a three-tier busing schedule. If the high school, which starts at 7:20, had a later starting time “of even 15 minutes,” and the elementary schools started at 8:30 instead of 9 a.m., which Scallion called “too late,” there is a possibility of moving to a two-tiered system.
“We could reduce bus time by a third,” she said. “Buses are expensive. We’ve got to shore it up.”
She also suggested charging a nominal fee, and asking parents to opt out if they know their kids are not going to take the bus. Westfield’s $25 million five-year busing contract ends in June.
“I do see that we have a possibility here next year about how we do things with our buses,” she said.
“I have felt remarkable support here in Westfield,” Scallion said. “I feel really lucky when I talk to my colleagues.”
She also expressed gratitude for the great coverage the district gets from The Westfield News.
“It’s great. We look forward to getting it every day. The taxpayers have to know what we’re doing with their money,” she said. “Everyone in the city should be proud of the momentum the schools have.’

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