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K-8 Virtual School settling in to offices at First Congregational Church

Virtual School Principal Thomas Osborn. (AMY PORTER/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

WESTFIELD – Thomas Osborn, principal of the new Virtual K-8 School, is excited to be settling into the school’s offices on the second and third floor of the First Congregational Church at 18 Broad Street. Last year, the church served as a location for remote learners during hybrid weeks for the district.

No students will be coming to the location, except on rare occasions for in-person meetings, or possibly as a meeting place for group outings. However, the new staff just hired will have their offices there.

Osborn has hired two early childhood, one elementary, and a grade 5 to 8 math, science, English language arts and social studies teacher. The program will also be sharing a nurse with Pathways, the alternative high school program looking to relocate into Old CIty Hall; and an adjustment counselor with Westfield Technical Academy. Still to be hired is a special education teacher.

Osborn said they will hire more staff as needed. To date there are 95 students registered, with an uptick in registration over the last few days, he said. At this point, grades 5 to 8 are more full than kindergarten to grade 4, although there are more coming in now for the younger grade levels.

“People have registered for a myriad of reasons,” Osborn said. For some families, remote learning was working well for their child or children. Other families are enrolling due to health and safety concerns, along with other reasons.

“It’s exciting to be at the inception of this new school and embark on this journey with students and staff,” Osborn said. He said it will be a positive experience with the highest possible education.

“We have a very creative staff. It should be fun as well for students,” he added.

Osborn credits Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski for his role. “The superintendent is extremely innovative. There are a lot of great programs through the district and this is one of them,” he said.

The Westfield Virtual School is one of just a handful starting in the state this year in public school districts. Osborn said he is in a professional development cohort set up by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with leaders of other virtual schools in the state. There are also two Commonwealth remote schools that have been in existence for quite some time.

Expenses for the Westfield K-8 Virtual School, including staff and equipment are being paid for over the next three years by a grant from the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) fund, part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Students and staff were also issued more robust chromebooks, hotspots and digital cameras, needed to optimize remote learning. Staff will also be receiving desktop computers. 

“We are hoping that this is absolutely long-term and permanent. We do serve a need. There are quite a few students that do better virtually. We serve the virtual learner,” Osborn said. He said students today are digital natives, and for the past twenty years, there have been online college courses at major universities. He said it’s nice to offer these opportunities in Westfield to kindergarten to grade 8 students, adding that in a few years K-12 will also have virtual learning as an option.

“There is no reason that students should opt out of the district to virtual schools, when we can provide a high quality, better, virtual option,” Osborn said.

“Here at the Virtual School, we put students first. They are at the center of every decision we make. I’m extremely proud to be part of this opportunity, and extremely grateful to Superintendent Czaporowski who’s had the vision to begin this endeavor with us,” he said.

Westfield Public Schools begin for students in grades 1 to 12 on Aug. 30. New teachers orientation is on Aug. 25, and professional development will be held on Aug. 26 and 27.

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