May 24, 2018

 

Dear Westwood Parents:

 

At next week’s Town Meeting on May 30th, the community will be voting on 2 articles that are important for our schools. We need your help in ensuring that these items are approved.

 

First, as you know, the Westwood Public Schools has an exciting opportunity to receive significant funding from the state to address the needs of our aging elementary school buildings. In December, we learned the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) had invited Westwood into its eligibility period based on their review of our needs.  In order to keep moving forward, we need a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting on May 30th to pay for a feasibility study. Without this approval, we will not be able to move forward in the process and will leave potentially $20 to $30 million in state money on the table. We will no longer be eligible for MSBA reimbursement, but will be left with all the same issues to address. Without a long-term plan, we will all have to pay more for expensive short term fixes.  Clearly, this is an important vote for our future.

 

If you were unable to make it to one of our community forums about our building needs or would like to learn more about the process and this vote, please see the information on our website or in the Finance and Warrant Commission’s Recommendations for Town Meeting (Article 14 - pg. 25). We have also attached a very brief information sheet summarizing key points .

 

Second, the Board of Selectmen has an important article up for a vote on May 30th: to fund a comprehensive security audit of all school and municipal buildings. This is an important step towards keeping our students safe.

 

Remember, decisions are made by the people who show up. So please show up to be part of the decision-making.   Town Meeting is Wednesday, May 30th in the high school gym.  The doors open at 6:30 pm; the official business begins at 7:30 pm.

 

Sincerely,

Emily J. Parks, Superintendent of Schools

Carol S. Lewis, Chair, Westwood School Committee


 


February 15, 2018
 

Dear Westwood Families:

 

I imagine that all of us were distressed and saddened by the news of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.  As an educator and as a parent, my feelings today run the gamut from sorrow to anger to a sense of despondence.  We send our kids to school each day with the hope and expectation that they will be happy and safe, and when we hear about violence in schools, it is difficult to manage the fear and anxiety of “what if?”

 

Each instance of violence in schools raises questions about what we can do to keep our students safe.  The following are some of the safety measures that are currently in place in the Westwood Public Schools:

 

  • Students and staff practice building evacuations and lockdown drills several times each year.  Staff work closely with the Westwood police and fire departments during these drills and debrief afterward.

  • At all of our elementary schools and at the middle school, doors are locked during the school day. The front entryway is either visible from the office or can be viewed on a security camera that is monitored by our administrative assistants.  

  • At the high school, we recently installed a new buzzer system at the main entrance.  The front entrance to the high school will now be locked at 8:30 am each morning. (High School Principal Sean Bevan addressed this change with students during class meetings on Tuesday.)

  • All visitors report to the office after entering a school to sign in. If someone enters the front door without reporting to the office, office staff members find the individual and ask them to report back for sign in.

  • All classrooms have a telephone, an intercom or both.  

  • All of our school main offices have emergency alert buttons that can be used to immediately summon help.

  • Each school has an internal Incident Management Team that convenes in the event of a school-based emergency and meets periodically to review crisis response plans.

  • Westwood has an Emergency Response Team with members from each school who plan for emergencies and develop measures to keep students and staff members safe.

  • Each school has a child study team that meets regularly to monitor the well-being of students.

  • Our proposed capital budget, subject to approval at Town Meeting, includes funding for security system upgrades.

 

We periodically conduct reviews of our safety protocols, including what to do in the event of an active shooter scenario. Our most recent review included working with an outside security consultant who was able to provide information about best practice. At the December School Committee meeting, we decided that it is time to conduct another review in light of advancements in technology and to ensure that our protocols reflect current best thinking. We will keep you apprised of this work.

 

All of our precautions, procedures, and protocols exist in a larger context.  Both educators and parents live with the fact that some of the questions that we have about how to keep our kids safe have no good answers. We are confronted by questions about why this country continues to experience these tragedies and what we can do about it. Some of these questions are perhaps beyond what is my professional role to answer, but that all of us as citizens must address.  However, as one piece of this larger picture, I believe that in Westwood the safety of our community may depend on the sense of community that we foster. In the Westwood Public Schools, we are committed to engendering a climate in which respect, inclusion, and care are the norm; in which every student feels a genuine sense of connection to at least one adult in the building; in which students are known as individuals, not one of the crowd; and where students and adults feel a shared sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.   This work, I believe, is as important as the technical safety measures and protocols that we have in place. We will continue our work in these areas with renewed focus.

 

Finally, the disturbing news from Parkland and other recent events has an impact on our children.  Some students may be fearful or worried about whether their school is a safe place.  Other students may be reminded of another violent episode or tragedy from their own past experience.  Students of different ages may have different understandings of this news and may respond or express their concerns differently.  I have attached some resources from the National Association of School Psychologists that may provide some guidance about how to talk with your child about how they are feeling (PDF).

 

If your child seems to be struggling with the news of this terrible event, we have resources that can help.   You can contact our guidance counselors or school psychologists with questions or concerns.  All members of our mental health team are available to meet with students in need.  In addition, Westwood Youth and Family Services (WYFS) is also a wonderful resource available to all students and their families.  WYFS provide free, confidential counseling services to Westwood residents.  If you or your child would like to speak with someone at WYFS, please call their Islington Community Center office at 781-320-1006.  

 

Please know that the safety of our students and the adults who work with them is our top priority.  Our flags are flying at half-staff in honor of the victims in Parkland, and we are keeping their families, their classmates, and the educators who cared for them in our thoughts and prayers in the days ahead.  

 

Sincerely,

Emily J. Parks

Superintendent

 


January 2018
 

Dear Westwood Residents:

 

We are writing to invite you into an important community conversation. As you know, our School District is widely recognized as among the best in Massachusetts, and we aim to maintain that standing to best serve generations of our children to come. This reputation in large part reflects the investment that Westwood has made in its schools and the importance it places on educating our children.  We are proud to continue this work.

 

Continuing that investment, we need to turn our attention to three of our elementary school buildings built between 1948 and 1953. Given their age, these buildings have needs that must be addressed. Although well-maintained, much of the existing plumbing and HVAC piping and components are original and nearing the end of useful life. The buildings are not fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They lack sufficient and suitable space for programs like art and music; small group instruction and intervention services; and even general storage and custodial functions. In short, they need to be modernized, both as a practical matter and to support today’s educational programs.

 

To be clear, we are not in dire straits. Our schools are safe, and students are learning. However, complications from deteriorating building conditions will escalate, as will the related negative impact on learning.

 

With an eye on our children’s future, the District has begun to explore potential solutions. We are determined to make fiscally responsible decisions to transform our schools into modern places of learning—capable of utilizing new technology and adapting to new curricula in order to continue providing the highest quality education.

 

Recently, the District took initial steps toward receiving partial funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), a state-funded program, to help pay for construction, renovations and repairs to our elementary schools. We are very excited that the MSBA recently voted to invite Westwood into its eligibility period, during which time specific plans will be formulated with input from the community. Unlike many school districts that have applied for eligibility multiple times without success, Westwood succeeded in its first attempt. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to carefully plan how we will invest in educating the Class of 2030 and beyond. The resulting project will be an investment in the future of our community and the children to come whose education we are charged with safeguarding.

 

The District is committed to keeping all residents informed and engaged, so that everyone understands the choices and challenges we will face and has the chance to contribute to the conversation. Over the next several months, we want to engage with you in a visioning process that looks toward the immediate future, while also considering the community’s needs for the next 30 to 50 years. We want to hear your concerns and opinions, understand what we as a community value in education, and ultimately determine the scope and direction of our capital projects.

 

To that end, we are launching a new website—www.westwoodschoolbuilding.com—where we will post the latest information as soon as it becomes available. In addition, we will offer multiple, ongoing opportunities—like school tours, forums and Q&A sessions, and surveys—to allow for community participation and feedback.

 

Lastly, we’ll regularly issue communications like this one to draw attention to specific issues and developments. These messages will be sent to the District’s email list, local newspapers, the Council on Aging, and the town newsletter. They will also be posted on the new website and promoted through the Westwood Schools social media channels.

 

We believe that only by collaborating respectfully and thoroughly as a community can we achieve the outcomes our children deserve. We hope you feel the same, and we look forward to working with you.

 

Sincerely,

 

Emily J. Parks
Superintendent of Schools                                              

Carol S. Lewis
School Committee Chairperson

 




October 25, 2017

 

Dear Parents:

 

We recently received the district results from last spring’s MCAS testing, and we are pleased to share with you some good news:  Westwood High School is one of seven high schools in the state that were designated this year as a commended school by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  This commendation is in recognition of students’ high achievement and high progress at WHS.  We are proud of this recognition and want to acknowledge the wonderful work across the district that builds the foundation for the culminating MCAS assessment in grade 10.  

 

Over the next month, we will be analyzing student, grade level and building MCAS results as one strategy for examining the impact of our programs and thinking about how best to support students’ learning.  The analysis this year presents some challenges as last spring’s tests represent a shift from the past two years when students in grades 3-8 took the PARCC assessment, rather than MCAS, in English Language Arts and math.   Moreover, last spring’s ELA and math MCAS in grades 3-8  was the first time time that the “next generation MCAS” (or “MCAS 2.0”) was administered.  This new test is quite different from prior versions of the MCAS, and the scores are not comparable to scores from past years.  To help you understand this change, we are including here a letter to parents from the Acting Education Commissioner for our state with important information about the new test, how to read the parent report, and some other useful parent resources.  We encourage you to review these materials.  

 

Finally, while assessments such as MCAS provide one important piece of information about a student’s progress, they are only one part of a student’s profile and do not represent the totality of who he or she is as a student.  Similarly, MCAS results tell only one part of the story of our district -- a district where we celebrate academics, the arts, athletics, service, and social/emotional growth.

 

You will receive your child’s MCAS results during the first week of November.  Please contact your child’s principal if you have any questions or concerns after reviewing the parent report.

 

Sincerely,

 
Emily J. Parks
Superintendent
  Allison F. Borchers
  Assistant Superintendent
   

 

Letter to parents from Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner

 


 



September 8, 2017

 

Dear WPS Families,

 

We have successfully concluded our first week of the 2017-2018 school year!   I hope that you and your family have had a good start!

 

Though the start of a new school year always represents a new beginning, for me, this year in particular is the start of something new as I begin my role as Superintendent of Schools. After more than 20 years in the WPS, I feel deeply committed to Westwood and consider myself quite lucky to have the opportunity to lead in this community.  Although I have had the opportunity to know and understand the district from many different roles, this year clearly provides a new vantage point and a wonderful opportunity to listen, observe, and reflect on how we see ourselves today and imagine our district in the future.  To that end, I have created an entry plan that includes many opportunities to talk with parents in order to understand your perspective on the district and your hopes and expectations for your children’s experience in school. In addition to attending events such as PTO meetings, SEPAC, and Site Council meetings throughout the fall, I will be hosting my first “Coffee with the Superintendent” on Tuesday, September 26th at 9:30 am in the Professional Development room at Westwood High School.  If you are able to stop by, please do.  If you are not, please know that there will be other opportunities to talk with each other in the upcoming weeks, both during the day and in the evenings.

 

The start of a new school year also provides the faculty and administrators an opportunity to reflect on our work and focus our efforts for a new school year.  We spent the week before students arrived welcoming and orienting our new faculty and staff (nearly 50 people this year), followed by 2 days as a district and in school-based teams preparing for our students’ arrival. During this time, I had the opportunity to address the faculty.  To give you a glimpse into what we are thinking about and talking about as we anticipate a new year of teaching and learning with your children, I am sharing with you my opening remarks to faculty.

 

Finally, last night the Westwood School Committee held its first meeting of the 2017-2018 school year.  As a parent myself, I know how difficult it can be to make it to events such as School Committee meetings on a weeknight.  Fortunately, if you are unable to attend in person, the agenda, minutes, presentation materials, and link to a video of the meeting are available on the district website.  We welcome your participation and hope you will find the website a good resource for staying informed about the district goals, the issues we are discussing, and our decision-making process.  

 

I look forward to meeting many of you in the upcoming months.  If you see me “out and about,” please introduce yourself and say hello!  Welcome back to a new school year!  

 

Sincerely,

Emily Parks

Superintendent of Schools

 
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