WESTFIELD – While the decision on whether to keep Russell school open next year was the weightiest matter before the School Committee on Monday, other presentations offered a look at school programs and activities.
Karen Manchino’s fourth grade class at Abner Gibbs gave a presentation on extended writing response, one of the skills they were learning in class.
Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski presented an “Above and Beyond” certificate to Westfield High School Honor Society president Miranda Boudreau for coordinating food delivery on Feb. 8, one day early due to an impending snow storm to the Westfield Soup Kitchen, and then ensuring volunteers were able to get there to serve the meal, despite school closure.
Also giving State of the Schools presentations were Westfield Technical Academy principal Joseph Langone and Westfield High School principal Charles Jendrysik.
Langone said that Westfield Technical Academy will admit 160 students in the fall, and has a total enrollment hovering close to 600.
He said with the MCAS assessment, there are some issues to address with high needs and special education students, adding that the key is to move needs improvement students into proficient, and warning/failing students into needs improvement.
He said the graduation rate for Westfield Technical Academy has shown steady growth relative to the district, and is currently at 93.7%. High needs students are neck in neck with all of the student population, Langone said.
One of the district’s strategy initiatives is the effective use of data. Langone said the school has developed a data team comprised of both technical and academic programs, with the assistance of Denise Ruszala, director of assessment and accountability.
Langone said another goal is to review the software programs being used at the school. Currently, there are over 20 software programs. Every tech program has software, as do academic programs, he said. The school has started a program to evaluate the usefulness of online information sources that covers currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose (CRAAP).
Langone said he is also looking to get a presenter on online security and citizenship for next year.
Other changes are being made school-wide in students’ learning experiences. Langone said the goal is to arrive at a consistent format, whether in a technical or academic class, where students will find the same agenda in every classroom.
The school is also pilot-testing the “Signal Success” curriculum, which was rolled out for grade 9 and extended to grade 10. Langone said it is a job-readiness curriculum, that focuses on how to have conversations and how to shake hands, as examples. He said WTA is the only career technical education high school in the Commonwealth using the curriculum.
Langone said that he is amping up the staff with bi-weekly meetings in place of monthly meetings. He said the meetings are used to talk about student needs, and connect them to interventions.
The principal said the high point of his week is “Tiger Talk,” his weekly radio show on WSKB community radio with Rob Ollari. He also passed out copies to School Committee members of the first Tiger Cub Chronicle, an expanded version of their newsletter in tabloid form. “The kids said they liked the idea of doing a newspaper,” Langone said, adding that copies are available at The Press Room.
Langone said the school has a collaboration with so many different community organizations it was impossible to name them all. He did name the Westfield Education 2 Business Alliance (WE2BA), Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, Westfield State University, and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). He also talked about the increased collaboration between Westfield Tech and Westfield High School.
“Chuck is not my competition. We’re honoring that he’s new and I’m new,” Langone said of WHS principal Charles Jendrysik. They both recently visited STCC, and attend WE2BA together.
Langone said that he is going next week to take a look at the WHS greenhouse, to see if WTA can get that up and running. “They are all our kids,” Langone said.
Jendrysik spoke next for Westfield High School, acknowledging that public speaking is not his strong suit.
Following a similar format to Langone, he said that enrollment at WHS is becoming fairly stable. He said that some of the areas with the biggest concerns are in high needs, students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged.
Jendrysik also acknowledged that Westfield High School was hit hard by higher drop-out rates last year; “higher than we’d like, and higher suspensions than we’d like,” he said.
He said graduation rates dropped off a little on both non-high needs and high needs students, fluctuating less than 1% on non-high needs, 2% on high needs. The WHS four-year graduation rate is 91% presently.
At the beginning of the year, all academic teachers were given MCAS scores of students they were receiving, to get a handle on their strengths and weaknesses. They were also given to department heads.
“We’re making sure that we’re making the right connections,” Jendrysik said.
“MCAS is a one day test. Do you look at data throughout the year,” asked School Committee member William Duval.
Jendrysik said that he has been discussing setting up a data training team with the Superintendent. “Data is only as useful as how well you can manipulate and read it,” he added.
Jendrysik said the school did open a new computer lab this year. The staff has also adopted Google email, and is looking to add Google Docs.
For the district-wide goal of designing high quality learning experiences, Jendrysik said they had a school-wide walk through with a member from the state Department of Education, which looked at student engagement. “We’re trying to create a culture where we’re more open to people coming into classrooms,” he said. They plan to have a second walk-through in the spring with WPS director of curriculum and instruction Susan Dargie.
Teachers meet every other Monday, and speak about ways to engage students. The school created the Community Closet, which offers food, clothing, and toiletries for students who need them. Jendrysik said the Lions Club is also planning a professional clothing drive for the high school.
Jendrysik said he is working hard to create relationships and opportunities in the community. On Mondays at 3 p.m., Westfield State is currently offering a free course on psychology at the school. He is also trying to expand relationships with STCC and Holyoke Community College.
A goal for next year is to reinvigorate the Career Center with WE2BA involvement. “It’s not where I want it to be,” he said.
He said the school has created a student recognition committee, and plans to start a recognition program for student academics.
“We have reduced the suspension rate by 36.9% this year, and have projected a drop out rate that’s 15.6% lower than last year,” Jendrysik said. He said his goal in coming into the school was to create stability. “I’m not looking to go anywhere. I hope to stay as principal for some time,” Jendrysik said.
“Westfield High School gets a bad rap sometimes. These numbers are already very impressive. These are the kids that need our help the most,” said School Committee member Cynthia Sullivan.
“A lot of it is the team, too, and their ability not to see everything as black and white.” Jendrysik said.