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‘Face-to-face and eye-to-eye’: New Westfield Washington Schools superintendent stresses honesty, transparency and strong focus on academics

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The Westfield Washington Schools Board of Trustees’ national search for a new superintendent brought it right back to Westfield with the selection of Paul Kaiser, who has lived in the city for 12 years.

The search also brought the unexpected hire of John Atha, the district’s new assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The new position is the consolidation of two positions – the director of elementary education and the director of secondary education. The position provides a slight relief to the school’s budget.

“From my standpoint, knowing the great academic excellence that’s always been here in Westfield schools was my draw,” Kaiser said. “I knew some people here, and I thought this would be a great place for the next stage in my career.”

Outside of work, new superintendent Paul Kaiser likes to fish. (Submitted photo)

Kaiser has worked in urban and rural school districts and most recently was the superintendent of Beech Grove City Schools for 13 years.

Atha has lived in Westfield for 11 years and most recently was the president of Guerin Catholic Schools. Atha originally applied for the superintendent position at WWS. However, when both the director of elementary education and the director of secondary education resigned from the district, the district decided to consolidate the position into an assistant superintendent job. Atha had worked with Kaiser in the past, and Kaiser felt Atha would be a good hire for the new associate superintendent position. Kaiser and Atha worked together when Kaiser was the assistant superintendent for budget and operations at Noblesville Schools while Atha was an elementary principal in the district.

Past superintendent Sherry Grate, who retired at the start of 2021, had the goal of creating the assistant superintendent position.

Kaiser said he aims to rebuild trust in the community after the tumultuous year leading up to Grate’s retirement by being “courageously honest.” Last year, the school district was the target of several protests, especially with some members of the community asking for Stacy McGuire to be reinstated as the Westfield High School principal after she was reassigned to the district’s administration.

Kaiser began his position May 26 and has already helped launch Shamrock Blast, a weekly newsletter emailed to community members that includes his personal cellphone number.

“We are going to be face-to-face and eye-to-eye. I’ve had parents reach out to me on various topics here and there, and I say, ‘Here’s my cell number, call me,’” Kaiser said. “I want to meet individually and meet with very small groups of people, and we will be transparent. When you’re trying to work with people, you have to meet them face-to-face. It has to be a small environment everybody is comfortable with. Our goal and our vision is, we will be out in the community. It has to be individualized just like we individualize things for students.”

Atha agrees with Kaiser on the philosophy for the school.

New assistant superintendent John Atha said he prioritizes family time. He pauses with his son Jaden after a baseball tournament. (Submitted photo)

“We are in a partnership with parents to help them educate their children, and they’re on the point for that,” Atha said. “We partner with them, and we also are in partnership with our community. A great public school system is an economic engine for the community, and we also are in partnership with the faculty and staff. We are going to respect that.”

Kaiser has three daughters and said his priorities are his faith, family and health. He ran half marathons prior to having knee surgery, and he enjoys fishing. He is not married.

Atha and his wife, Mary, have six children, ages 13 to 27. He is involved in family activities. He said he and his family like to walk and run on the Monon. 

For more, visit wws.k12.in.us.

Addressing diversity, equity and inclusion curriculum

Diversity, equity and inclusion curriculum, or DEI, has been a hot-button topic in many of Hamilton County school districts, leading to protests on both sides of the issue. New Westfield Washington Schools Supt. Paul Kaiser and Assistant Supt. John Atha said the district will continue to follow the state’s academic standard guidelines.

Local school districts use DEI to offer programs and policies that encourage representation and participation of diverse groups of people, including different genders, race, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientation. Kaiser and Atha said instead of instilling a heavy focus on DEI, they will encourage curriculum to follow state standards, specifically academic standards.

“When you unpack those standards, and I’ve called them power standards in the past, they are the essential standards. It is trying to say in Westfield schools, ‘This is what we want kids to know and be able to do, and this is how we are going to measure it, and these are the resources we are going to use to do that,’” Atha said. “For me, that’s always the focus. Buzzwords come and go in education and different things happen, but we are going to stay focused on providing an optimal learning environment where we care for kids, we support kids, we love kids and challenge kids. They’re going to be able to chase their passions and do whatever they want to do, so that’s going to be our focus.”

Kaiser said the focus should be on high academic standards.

“I’ve been in education for 41 years, and acronyms come and go over the years,” Kaiser said. “Our focus is going to be on high academic standards, teaching kids grit, perseverance, flexibility, honesty, to be problem-solvers and to be self-aware, teaching them to understand the difference of others. We have to teach our kids to be ready for life. We are not going to focus on acronyms, and we are not going to focus on any one program that someone is trying to push. We are going to focus on kids. We are going to take the skills our parents are teaching in the home, and we want to reinforce those.”


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