Westfield Washington Schools Supt. Sherry Grate encouraged community members to engage with the schools on many different levels.
“When we think about meeting our vision and mission, we can’t do it alone,” Grate said during a Sept. 20 State of the Schools appearance at a Westfield Chamber of Commerce luncheon at The Bridgewater Club in Westfield. “It takes each and every one of us working together to make the best education opportunities.”
Grate challenged audience members on how they can meet the needs of students socially, emotionally and academically.
“The way our kids are going to meet the graduation requirements is changing,” Grate said. “This is starting with students in eighth grade, so we are creating what are called graduation pathways. The first part is the high school diploma. This will not be very different from what we’ve had in the past as far as (different diplomas). It’s meeting all the requirements we would have for graduation. The second component has to do with employability skills. Students will have to demonstrate work through project-based learning, work-based learning or service-based learning, so we’re defining what those look like.”
Grate said students have to demonstrate post-secondary readiness, such as taking entrance exams like the ACT and SAT.
Keeping up with the ever-changing role of technology is another priority.
“Students are learning faster than we are and we have to keep up,” Grate said. “It’s really about preparing students for their future, not what we experienced when we went to school.”
Grate said if there is a day school has to be canceled because of inclement weather, students will be able to make up that day with e-learning. Because not all students have access to broadband at home, the district is looking for business partners who would display a 4-inch by 4-inch window cling that signifies it has partnered with the schools.
“We are looking for a safe place where students can do their work and use a Wi-Fi network and do their homework,” Grate said.
Those interested in partnering with the schools should contact Dan Brita, technology director for Westfield Washington Schools at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, the schools launched Parent University before the school year began.
“We are trying to create a system that supports our families as they navigate a K through 12 learning experience,” Grate said. “Through our breakout sessions, we learned there are lot of things that parents want to know more about.”
Grate said the school district has a podcast every week called “Inside the Rock,” which can be found in the App Store. There is a Westfield Washington Schools app now as well.
Grate said city leaders and school officials began having conversations about students’ mental well-being.
“There are three other areas coming to surface when we talk about the mental health and well-being of our students that we need to rally around,” Grate said. “First, we need to be aware that there are challenges that our students are facing today that go beyond hunger, that go beyond whether they can complete their homework, get an A in class, how many (Advanced Placement) classes they can take. We know we need to be advocates to support our students in regards to mental well-being and, finally, we need access to care because we know that is a challenge. That’s something we are trying to help our children navigate.”
On the subject of school safety, there needs to be a multi-faceted approach, Grate said
“It starts with building relationships with our students and really understanding who they are,” she said.
The Westfield Police Dept. has worked to create relationships in the schools. Two new resource officers have joined the school and one will have an explosives-sniffing canine.
Grate said the district accepted hand-held metal detectors from a state program.
“We are waiting on guidance on how those will be utilized,” Grate said. “There will be more updates to come on the use of those.”