WESTFIELD – Teachers across the Westfield Public School District began professional development this week, which was extended earlier this month from two days to 10 days by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“The first three days are school-based days, with each principal conducting meetings remotely with their teachers,” said Susan Dargie, director of curriculum and instruction for WPS. She said the next seven days, beginning on Monday, teachers will participate in various one-hour sessions every day– some optional and some required – such as workshops on Google Classroom and Google Meet, but all related to remote instruction.
The last two days of professional development on Sept. 10 and 11 will be in-person collaboration days, when teachers will be working with each other, getting Google classrooms set up, practicing the remote skills they learned, and getting ready to start with everybody on Sept. 14, the first day of school for students.
Dargie said they are starting remotely with all students except those in technical classes at Westfield Technical Academy, but even once groups of students start returning to in person learning, they will be in a hybrid model that involves some remote learning.
“The professional development being offered to staff members this year will vastly improve learning experiences for our students this school year. In addition to training in safety protocols and Google classroom, I am grateful to teachers that had success with remote learning last spring for offering to share their expertise with other staff as well,” said Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski.
Dargie said when the students start, there will be some teachers who will be working from home, due to individual situations arranged through the Human Resources Dept. “The expectation is that all teachers who are able to return to work will be teaching from the schools,” Dargie said.
Dargie said pulling all the pieces together with the changing guidance from the state has been challenging. “I give our principals so much credit,” she said, adding that usually on the first day of professional development, principals gave out their class lists, which are still being finalized this year.
One reason everything is taking longer is that a lot of the work is being done manually, such as keeping siblings together in the same cohorts, and putting together bus routes with only 23 kids allowed on a bus at a time.
“We had to take all the kids in the district and put them into the A Cohort and B Cohort, and had to do it by hand, because we were doing it by bus stop,” Dargie said. She said the principals got the cohort information this week, and will use that to build classes at the elementary level, and teams at the middle school level.
At the same time, the district is working on getting out the hot spots throughout the city. They have recently purchased Kajeet hotspot devices to go in people’s homes who do not have internet access, and have secured funding to pay for devices for 100 families.
Each school is also going to schedule a pickup time within the next couple of weeks for a chromebook pickup for those families that still need one. “The ones that don’t have anything, we’re taking care of first,” Dargie said.
“We’re getting there. It will be done, we are working through it,” Dargie said, adding, “Everybody’s doing the best that they can, and we’re going to be ready to welcome students online Sept 14 and in person at Westfield Tech. Everybody’s working so hard to make that happen.”
Dargie stressed that the most important thing to start any school year is to build relationships, and that continues to be their focus.
“We are in a different environment to build those relationships, but that is the focus of our work and professional development. The social emotional needs of the students are at the forefront of our planning. We’ll continue to support everyone as we open a new school year,” she said.
“Teachers are excited to meet new students, students are excited to get back to school. In that way, it’s like every other year. Our tendency is to focus on the content, but really our focus needs to be on the kids, getting to know them, connecting to a community of learners; that is job one, and it starts on Sept. 14.,” Dargie said.