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District Improvement Plan to mold schools into 'armada'

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD A Coordinated Program Review of Westfield Public Schools by the Department of Education stated that the district "had 13 strong sailing ships [schools] but didn't have an armada [all moving in the same direction]," Dr. Helena Mochak, director of Curriculum, told Reminder Publications.

In an effort to coordinate their 13 schools into one cohesive district, a 29-member District Leadership Team, comprised of district personnel from various specialties, has worked for five months to complete a three-year District Improvement Plan (DIP).

The plan, which outlines the major goals, objectives, strategies and essential outcomes for the district in nine categories Student Achievement, Assessment/Evaluation, Learning Environment/School Climate, Graduation, Human Resources, Professional Development, Technology, Parent/Community Involvement and Facilities Maintenance/Planning was presented to the School Committee on June 2.

"We've really come up with something we can use and [that] really drives our decision making," Mochak said.

Superintendent Shirley Alvira said the plan creates "macro goals" for the district so that each school can cater their own one-year School Improvement Plans (SIP) to their own micro needs, while remaining aligned with the district's objectives for improvement. She noted that each SIP is due to her by June 24 for review.

Alvira explained that all goals and objectives will be measured by data-driven analysis to ensure that they've met essential outcomes of performance.

She noted that the two goals for Student Achievement to improve the academic achievements of all students and to provide support so that all schools will meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in English Language Arts (ELA), Math and Science target a specific problem area for the district.

"The greatest need [for improvement] is in ELA and Math," Alvira said.

An essential outcome for Student Achievement is that students can "read effectively and communicate clearly in written and oral form actively building new knowledge from experience and previous knowledge." The strategies for achievement include the use of "MCAS Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, student work and other assessments to analyze data for district, schools, grade levels, subgroups and individual students."

Kathleen MacLean, principal of Southampton Road Elementary School, also a member of the District Leadership Team, said that in creating her SIP she will be focusing on many but not all of the nine categories in the DIP. She explained that she is not particularly concerned with the Graduation category because combating drop out rates is not prominent at the elementary level.

"I'm interested in building a program that is solid for students to make the [smooth] transition to middle school," MacLean said.

She said her school has had a strong emphasis on Learning Environment/School Climate, which stipulates that schools should "promote healthy schools by supporting wellness, good nutrition and physical activity as part of the total learning environment."

MacLean explained that Southampton Road Elementary School has piloted "Take 10" as part of their commitment to overall wellness. "Take 10" requires that students take 10 minutes per day to be physically active in their classrooms, whether it be walking in place while trying spelling words or jumping jacks while completing math problems, she explained.

MacLean noted that her school also has a Healthy Snack Policy for students eating snacks not at lunchtime. She also noted that to support healthy living the school has raised funds through donations and grants for a $10,000 rock-climbing wall, $50,000 for a fitness cluster [a type of playground] and also funds for a track.

"There's not money for that in a regular city budget so we must look for a vehicle for those benefits for the kids," MacLean said.

Other goals of the DIP are to "provide students and staff with current technology as an integral part of teaching and learning," to "increase family and community involvement in support of student achievement" and to "improve the physical learning and working environments for students and staff."

Alvira explained that overall the district is striving to create "independent learners" and a plan for professional development so that students may have the tools they need to succeed in life after graduation.