WESTFIELD, NJ - The Westfield Board of Education discussed enrollment in the Westfield Public Schools and an anti-bullying policy that will have to be implemented by September, at its meeting on Tuesday night.
The Board opened with the first of what will be a series of opportunities for public input on an anti-bullying policy that a current state statute mandates every school adopt by September 1st. Westfield adopted an anti-bullying policy in 2007 that was later revised in 2010 and has a Code of Conduct which will be revised to include the new policy. According to the state law, the policy is to be established, “Based on locally determined and accepted core ethical values.”
Part of this policy will include training for staff as well as the Board of Education. On Wednesday evening four different school districts will meet in Westfield to train the different Board members and administrators. The training will be provided by the NJ Principal and Administrators Association. Many teachers will also attend Professional Development workshops during the summer on how to address bullying.
Both parents and Board members expressed frustration with regards to the timeline for the policy. Superintendent Dolan admitted to being equally frustrated and explained that the District had only received guidance from the Department of Education regarding the policy last Friday. She further informed the public that while the district knew about this policy, districts were told to wait until they received guidance from the Department of Education. She also agreed that this was an important issue that should not be dealt with in a rushed manner. She suggested that the Board put a policy in place by September to be in compliance with the law but continue to revise the policy because it is of such importance.
Although few parents provided commentary on the policy, Ms. Bernstein, a parent and a member of the Bullying Task Force, said that the Task Force would provide comments for the next Board meeting to discuss the policy on June 28th. She also shared that as a member of the Special Education Committee, she believes that it is important to include an awareness of learning differences among both teachers and students in the policy as well as an understanding of behaviors attached to learning differences.
Mrs. Walker encouraged parents to send questions and comments to the Board and to Dr. Charwin, Westfield’s Anti-Bullying Coordinator. She also assured the public that even though the Board hoped to have a draft ready for the meeting on the 28th, people should continue to provide their input after this time since the policy will continue to be revamped over the summer.
Enrollment was the other major focus of Tuesday’s meeting, particularly intermediate school enrollment. In planning not only for next year but the next few years, a Long Range Planning Committee has looked at enrollment for the past years as well as enrollment projections for the coming years for the elementary and intermediate schools.
The essential issue in Dr. Dolan’s presentation on enrollment involved redistricting of the fifth grade. Whereas in the past, the District has added new sections to accommodate increased enrollment, this budget will not allow for that. Furthermore, according to Dr. Dolan’s presentation, the schools will be at capacity. When asked by Mr. Mattessich about capacity limits, Dr. Dolan explained that the capacity of 750 for Roosevelt Intermediate School, for example, is based on the use of all classroom spaces in the building where all students are in classes every single period of the day.
According to this presentation, classroom sizes would be kept at a reasonable average: between 23 and 24 for academic subjects, 20-21 for non-academic subjects, and approximately 39 for music.
Despite the limited number of changes presented, parents did not seem pleased with the plan overall. One parent complained of a lack of transparency in the information presented during the meeting. She did not understand for example, why the statistics presented were from different years in different sections of the presentation. For instance, the second slide compared the projected enrollment for 2013-2014 to the enrollment in 1996-1997, information from the current year was used, and information from 2007-2008 was used as well. She explained that this added to her feeling that, “one school is getting favored over another.” She went on to ask if the Board could not review the class by class and year by year enrollment information.
Dr. Dolan said that she tried to “present the information that tells the story” clearly. She and Assistant Superintendent Ms. O’Neal both stated that there was equality between the schools, and Dr. Dolan agreed to provide a class by class breakdown of enrollment which Mr. Mattessich also requested.
Another concern that arose amongst the parents and the Board was the number of counselors at each middle school. As of right now, Edison Intermediate School will have three counselors, and Roosevelt will have two. One mother asked how this will affect the implementation of an anti-bullying policy since bullying is of greatest concern at the intermediate level. Dr. Dolan agreed that this was a problem and noted that the District was looking into options. One option would be that the third counselor from Edison be shared between both schools. The District will also look into possible grants to fund a third counselor for Roosevelt.
The idea of “teaming” was a recurrent theme throughout the discussion, and one mother asked whether abandoning the team process would free up money and time. She asked if teachers could use the period they meet with their teams to teach, and whether this would then mean no new section would be added. Dr. Dolan said that she was right; abandoning the team process would free up a period. However, Dr. Dolan explained the importance of the team structure wherein core teachers work together for a specific group of students. “We want to make sure that a whole team of adults knows a group of children, because they need that extra support,” particularly at the middle school level where students are not yet entirely independent as they are in high school where a teacher does not necessarily know what other teachers a student has and never has to meet with the other teachers about a given student.
One parent brought another perspective to the table, the students’ perspective. She shared that her daughters were most affected because they were, “really sad about being split up from their friends.” The students, she continued, were not concerned with class sizes but rather with not being able to attend an event with their friends. Another parent echoed this concern and asked why students could not attend events at another school with their friends if they had been redistricted. “Can we do a motion?” the man asked, “or can we talk about it?” The Board members agreed that this might be an option and would look into it.
The Long Range Planning Committee also reviewed enrollment for the elementary schools. To account for enrollment increases in the first grade for three schools, another section will be added at Wilson, Edison and Tamaques. This will bring the average class sizes down from 24 to 19 in these schools. The other schools currently show an average class size of 20-21 in the first grade. Growth is anticipated over the summer.
The second grade enrollment numbers are also slightly higher than desired. The District will be monitoring these numbers over the summer to determine if more support will be needed for the second grade. One option Dr. Dolan discussed that has been used in the past is to provide more literacy support instead of adding a new section.
In other news, a unanimous vote was cast to approve the appointment of Mr. David Greer as the Supervisor for World Language and English Language Learners. Mr. Greer has been a French teacher in the district and has taught English Language Learners in the district. He has also taught a great deal to other teachers and embraces the use of technology as an instructional tool. Dr. Dolan expressed being “Pleased to recommend him to the Board.” Mr. Greer thanked the Board for the opportunity, about which he is very excited, and added that it “has been a pleasure to teach for the district for the last nine years.”
Mr. Greer was also on the Parent Advisory Committee which worked on the three year Bilingual/ESL Program Plan that received unanimous approval on Tuesday evening, as well. The main goal of the program is to “Systematically develop English language skills of English Language Learners to use English in all situations.” The Westfield school district has a significant number of ELLs whose primary languages include Spanish, French, Thai, Mandarin and even Icelandic. The committee, composed of three teachers, including Mr. Greer, and parents who generally have children within the program, provides a great deal of support to not only the students within the program but their families, as well.