School board approves lease for early learning center


The Westfield Washington School Board of Trustees unanimously approved a lease agreement for an early learning center space for infants through pre-K.

The district’s existing early learning program occupies 21 classrooms in each of WWS’ six elementary buildings.

WWS Supt. Sherry Grate said by freeing up those classrooms, the district won’t have to build a new elementary school.

“The trends in (increasing) enrollment are through grades five through 12 versus in elementary, so we put together a long-term plan,” Grate said. “We would really like to be able to offer opportunities for early learning, perhaps for children who may not otherwise have those opportunities for learning.”

The early learning center will be a combined space with the district’s central office. Currently, the district leases space for the central office at 1143 E. 181st St. for $120,000 a year.

“It’s fiscally responsible to build an early learning center and central office for $19 million and not needing staff in comparison to a new elementary for $30 million and then additional staffing,” Grate said.

Prior to the vote, several community members spoke against the lease agreement, including WWS parent Erica Strahm.

“I know that the plan is to move forward with this project, but it seems like what’s going on with COVID-19, all plans – vacation plans, wedding plans, lots of things have been interrupted, and I wonder if it makes sense to maybe pull back and wait some time,” she said. “We don’t know what school is going to look like this year, and we really don’t know what it’s going to look like going forward.”

School board member Rebecca Ogle said although there are lots of unknowns with the pandemic, the district must move forward.

“We cannot predict what will happen, but we certainly can’t stop planning for things that will happen when our life can resume,” she said.

Following the regular board meeting, the public was given time to speak. For more than an hour following the meeting, residents, parents and community leaders requested the reinstatement of Stacey McGuire as Westfield High School principal while also criticizing the district’s decision to reassign McGuire to the director of alternative learning.

As of press time, McGuire has not been reinstated as principal. Two interim co-principals have been named: Alicia Denniston and Bill Naas.
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