WESTFIELD – A packed house of parents came to the School Committee on Monday to hear the recommendations as to which middle schools will house the 5th and 6th grade intermediate school and 7th and 8th grade middle school.
Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said that the Transition Committee, which is working out all of the issues of redistricting, will be giving “some sort of update” at every School Committee meeting, as well as bring forward items for a vote. He said the Transition Committee, which is comprised of himself, parent representative Rachel Bullock, Ronald R. Rix, chief financial officer, Susan Dargie, director of curriculum, South Middle School principal Paul Newton, Paula Ceglowski, director of human resources, and School Committee member Diane Mayhew meets bi-weekly. Members of the committee are teamed up to lead sub-committees, and each of the sub-committees also has 7 to 8 members, including parent representatives.
Czaporowski said in looking at which middle school to house which grades, the committee looked first at the facilities. North Middle School was built to serve 850 6-8 grade students. South Middle School was originally built to house 1,000 7-9 grade students. SMS has more lockers, larger hallways, cafeteria and gymnasium. The results of a recent enrollment study showed that there will be more students in grades 7/8 than in grades 5/6 eight out the next nine years.
When considering the locations, the Transition Committee discovered that equal numbers of students who go to the Boys & Girls Club after school are in grades 5/6 and grades 7/8, which was a surprise to many of the committee members. Czaporowski said students will be able to walk from SMS to the Boys & Girls Club and other after school programs. He said SMS also has access to the downtown, buses and Westfield Technical Academy, offering greater opportunities for early college and career activities.
Czaporowski said that educators know when students in grades 7 and 8 continue to be involved in programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs and the YMCA, they are less likely to get involved in destructive activities, such as using drugs. He then asked, “Do we want more 7/8 walkers, or 5/6 walkers?”
Czaporowski finished the presentation, by saying that the eight members of the Transition Committee were unanimous in their belief that grades 5 and 6 should go to North Middle School, and grades 7 and 8 to South Middle School. He also added that the district is also starting to combine professional development for 5th and 6th grade teachers and 7th and 8th grade teachers.
After opening the meeting to public participation, William Parks, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club was the first to speak. “We’re totally behind what they’re recommending,” Park said. He said they currently have 50-60 students in grades 7 and 8 that walk down to the Boys & Girls Club. “We believe it is the right way to go to continue to bus students from North Middle School to the Boys & Girls Club,” he added.
School Committee member Cindy Sullivan said she had been thinking the other way, and thanked Parks for his comments which helped her see the advantage of the plan.
Parks said students in grades 5 and 6 are already used to coming on buses. He said 7th and 8th grade students who are able to walk from right next door, will give more of them an opportunity to participate.
St. James Avenue resident Rich Roy spoke next, saying that he has been to more than one School Committee meeting on redistricting, and still believes that “decapitating” the fifth grade out of the elementary schools was not necessary. He asked about the parent representative on the Transition Committee, and if she had been involved in the decision.
Parent representative Rachel Bullock stood up and introduced herself, and said that since she has a fourth grade child who will be going into the fifth grade, that she was “heavily invested.” She said that she will be on the communications sub-committee, teamed up with Czaporowski.
School Committee member Ramon Diaz, Jr. thanked the superintendent for presenting the School Committee with all the facts. “It was very clear,” Diaz said. Czaporowski noted that the presentation will be posted on the district website at www.schoolsofwestfield.org.
School Committee member Kevin Sullivan said his first “knee-jerk” reaction was to house grades 5/6 at SMS, but now the other way “makes all the sense in the world.” He said he had been thinking originally that more 5/6 kids go to the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA, and didn’t know it was in fact well split.
“I also didn’t have a pro or con. The first pro, was the youngest students will be bused more. That convinced me right away. I’d much rather have the older students walking,” said Transition Committee member Diane Mayhew.
Cindy Sullivan said that at the start of the process, 70% of the people surveyed wanted a 5/6 and 7/8 school. Czaporowski said the other advantage of this model is that it allows the district to eliminate the North and South divide, referring to perceived inequities between the two middle school programs, and also brings the students together “sooner rather than later.”
Mayor Brian P. Sullivan, chair of the School Committee said it made sense to put the bigger kids in the bigger (SMS) school. He said he appreciated having parents serve on the committee. He then asked if there were any more questions. One parent stepped forward and said she was beginning to be concerned about how the fourth grade teachers are prepping students for the move to fifth grade, such as are they going to be in the same classes all day or switching classes.
Czaporowski said some of these decisions have not been made yet, but they would be reported as they are made. Earlier he had said that the sub-committees looking at the two schools are building them from the ground up, looking for more educational opportunities in the new configurations. He also said the district needed to make this decision first to move forward.
Kelly Trudeau, who has two students in special education, said right now, South Middle School doesn’t have the special education programs that North Middle School has. Czaporowski said it has different programs than the other school right now, but both will have special education programs.
Another parent asked about fifth grade band programs. Czaporowski said the Transition Committee has asked the sub-committees to develop schools that the kids need. He said the School Committee meets on the first and third Mondays every month, and promised to get the word out.
Mayhew then made a motion to have grades 5/6 at North Middle School, and 7/8 at South Middle School, which passed unanimously. Following the vote, Cindy Sullivan said both schools will be renamed.