Westfield Schools receive $66K grant to increase online course options

Susan Dargie, WPS director of curriculum and instruction. (Photo by Amy Porter)

WESTFIELD – On Jan. 4, the Westfield School Committee accepted a grant of $66,000 from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to increase online course options for students in Westfield High School, Westfield Technical Academy and Westfield Middle School.

“This is a grant that we were really excited to apply for,” said Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski before turning the meeting over to Susan Dargie, director of curriculum and instruction for Westfield Public Schools.

Dargie said they have been partnering with Edgenuity for several years to offer online courses that students are able to take for credit recovery or initial credit. They also have limited access to credit instruction with a certified instructor through the partnership with Edgenuity, although it is a more costly option.

Dargie said the new grant became available during discussions on how to maximize the use of online courses during the pandemic, which has required the schools to become even more flexible with meeting their students’ course needs. She said they were excited to see that Edgenuity was one of the DESE approved vendors connected to the grant.

“We applied for and received $66,000 to expand our contract from 30 licenses to be utilized at WHS and WTA to full site licenses for WMS, WTA, and WHS. With site licenses, there is no restriction on numbers of courses or students served. In addition, we will have access to 100 semester courses led by Edgenuity teachers,” Dargie said, adding those courses could be used if a teacher becomes ill and needs to take a leave, much like a substitute teacher. Edgenuity would provide a certified teacher in the specific course for this purpose.

“We appreciate the opportunity to extend our use of this online learning platform with the help of the grant, and now that it has been accepted by the School Committee, we will meet with our secondary principals to discuss the specifics for their school needs,” Dargie said.

Czaporowski said the district will now be able to offer more online courses for students at all three secondary schools. “If students want to take a course that doesn’t fit into their schedule, or they want to take an additional course, we have that flexibility,” he said.

He said before, most students had to guide themselves through the courses, but now they also have the potential of 100 semester courses led by Edgenuity teachers with live instruction and no limit to the number of students in the classes.

The increase of online options also comes at a time when the district is looking into offering a remote option for students post-pandemic.

“There are going to be a certain group of students that prefer this. I think it’s something we have to offer moving forward. I’ve asked Susan Dargie to put together that proposal to see what that would look like,” Czaporowski said.

He also reached out to DESE about the idea, and was told the state is also looking into this. DESE told him that Westfield was the first to reach out to them, and said they would like Westfield to become a “thought partner” as they develop the guidance.

“I was surprised I was the first person to ask about it,” he said.

Czaporowski said some students are excelling with online learning, and Westfield would like to be able to offer them that option moving forward and keep them in the district. “This provides flexibility – if a student decides this isn’t what they wanted, they could easily come back to school, because they’re still a part of the school,” he said.

The district plans to survey families in the near future to see who would be interested in an online learning option post-pandemic. Czaporowski said the budget process begins soon, and the survey will help them to determine how many families are interested, and the level of staffing that might be needed.

Czaporowski said the grant with Edgenuity is for this year, but he is hoping it will be extended. He said if not, in terms of putting the expanded contract in their budget, the district will need to see how many people take advantage of it now to see if it’s a worthwhile expenditure.

“It would help continuing the remote option beyond the pandemic,” Czaporowski said.

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