The placed three goals on School Superintendent Margaret Dolan’s plate for the coming school year.
The board agreed to set science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, school community respect and reengineering Westfield High School for a larger school population as the district’s and Dolan’s goals for the year. The goals were set during a BOE brainstorming session on June 28.
“They are the way you will assess her in another year,” school district human resources specialist Barbara Ball said at the beginning of the meeting. Ball served as the moderator of the session.
Dolan outlined priorities for the STEM education initiative and respect during remarks opening the meeting as her suggestions for the year. The third item on the high school was added following a roundtable discussion with board members outlining proposals and agreeing to a group of three. BOE President Julia Walker was the first to push the WHS initiative.
Board members also agreed to make communication with the public an overarching goal of the school system, integrating it as part of the other three goals.
The goal setting followed using the district’s five-year strategic plan as a guide. The strategic plan, adopted late last year, following a year long process – which included a community survey and several meetings of a planning committee – includes planks relating to the goals set by the board.
During a meeting in January the BOE for the 2010-2011 school year – including bullying prevention and the creation of a district Facebook page. The 2010-2011 meeting was held later than usual due to the district’s budget crisis and the waiting for the finalization of the strategic plan. In April, the BOE that Dolan had fulfilled the goals and noted both remain ongoing. The bullying initiative is currently high on the district’s agenda, with the drafting of a new district bullying policy and code of conduct in response to a new state law on the subject. Dolan noted the student respect initiative is part of the bullying policy.
The empathses on science, technology, engineering and math education factored in to many of the board members’ wish lists for the coming year. STEM has become a national buzzword in education circles, with President Obama making the issue a priority within his education policy and the U.S. Department of Education making grant monies available on the subject.
Dolan said the initiative will include district staff researching all of the opportunities for local school districts in the area of STEM and determining a STEM strategy going forward. She said this will include studying the district’s curriculum to decide if any changes are needed. Dolan indicated that, in her opinion, the district has been strong on science and math education and would likely focus on the technology and engineering areas going forward. She said this did not mean that science and math would not be looked at during the review process.
“It’s making more of the staff focused on STEM,” Dolan said.
Dolan said the respect initiative came out of the bullying policy she and her staff have been focused on for several months. The Board of Education has made bullying a priority for several years, with the January vote coming after a series of district workshops on the subject and Gov. Chris Christie into effect on bullying prevention in the public schools. Dolan and the board have been in the process of rewriting the district’s bullying policy to fit the new state law. The law dictates that school districts have a bullying policy in place by Sept. 1.
Dolan said the respect initiative will include an overhaul of the district’s code of conduct. In previous BOE meetings on the bullying policy, Dolan the code of conduct study will commence in September following the finalization of the bullying policy. She indicated the state deadline on the bullying policy placed that issue at the top of the list, followed by a study and changes to the bullying policy. The code of conduct will be studied by a committee consisting of parents and teachers and will incorporate parts of the new bullying policy. Dolan has not set a timetable for a BOE vote on the new code of conduct.
Dolan also indicated the respect initiative will include working with district staff on training. The district has been conducting multiple in-service workshops – and out of district classes – for teachers and administrators on bullying issues.
BOE member Jane Clancy said student wellness and connecting student to the school community were high on her priority list for the coming year. Clancy said she would like to see the district find more ways to connect the students to each other during the year and to the school outside of the classroom. She said this could include looking at ways to fill voids from the and the elimination of school resource officer positions.
Clancy indicated this could address bullying and respect issues.
As part of the brainstorming process, board members combined Clancy’s proposal with the overall respect initiative.
Westfield High School Population
Walker said she would like the district to study the growing enrollment at WHS, which includes projections of over 2,000 students in the building by 2014.
“We just graduated the last class under 450 students for the foreseeable future,” she said.
Walker said she wants this study to include studying all aspects of the WHS system, including the structure for the larger school population. She said on her list includes looking at if the district needs to institute an advisor/advisee relationship in the high school, the amount of electives offered and the extracurricular offerings.
“It’s a great high school and how do we make sure it stays that way,” she said. “How do we make sure students stay connected with their community?”
Walker’s proposal stirred discussion amongst the board on having three goals – instead of two – and on adding a focus on a particular school.
“Is it the wrong message to send to the community to say one of the two goals is the high school?” BOE member Mark Friedman said, before the board decided to expand the list to three goals.
BOE member Ginny Leiz – who made a focus on WHS enrollment growth in her 2010 reelection campaign – said she believes the high school should be seen as a culmination experience in the town’s public schools and keep the issue as a focus for the entire BOE.
Walker noted the enrollment projections for a high school over 2,000 students has been known by the board for a decade and the high school is the same as it was 10 years ago. The board did vote for the creation of a science wing over five years ago in order to address WHS population growth.
Walker also noted that the board made intermediate school population growth a goal several years ago based on the enrollment projections. This included the expansion of Roosevelt Intermediate School and the controversial decision to redistricting part of the Washington School community from Roosevelt to Edison. Walker said the intermediate school decisions were made based on the same enrollment data involving the high school.
“We are looking to maintain the education,” Walker said. “It is where the need is.”
Dolan indicated that she and her staff will be meeting over the summer to develop the three goals into an action plan. She said the plan would likely be presented to the BOE during a meeting in September and will include how the district’s executive staff will implement the plan.
Editor's Note: A sidebar on other proposals offered by BOE members during the brainstorming session can be found here. A story on the board's discussion of communications and engagement policy is up-coming at 1 p.m.