BOE Passes District Goals; STEM Amendment Fails

By JESSE WINTER
For The Westfield Leader

WESTFIELD — During a spirited meeting of the Westfield Board of Education, members passed the 2021-2022 District Wide Goals by a margin of 6 to 1.

Board President Amy Root, Board Vice President Brendan Galligan and board members Robert Garrison, Leila Morrelli, Gretchan Ohlig and Sonal Patel voted in favor. Board member Michael Bielen abstained, while board members Tara Oporto and Sahar Aziz were absent for the night’s proceedings.

This year’s district goals for the Westfield Public Schools include curricular and professional development goals such as “revising the K-12 Physical Education and Comprehensive Health Curriculum for a September 2022 rollout,” according to an official district document included with the night’s agenda. Moreover, other goals include “conducting a curriculum audit to assess the opportunities to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion State standards and regulations.”

As was explained by multiple education officials during Tuesday night’s meeting, some of the district goals are meant to align with state education mandates, aligning Westfield’s curriculum review cycle with state-mandated curriculum.

“The reason the Health and Physical Education curriculum is listed here specifically is because it aligns with the implementation requirements of the New Jersey Department of Education,” explained Superintendent Raymond González. “This year is the Health and Physical Education year, which is required by the Department of Education.”

Additional goals fall under professional development for the school’s staff, such as implementing strategies “for pre-assessing learning gaps” and “designing learning activities to address student needs.” Another goal outlines a “Responsive Classroom” approach for kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers.

A responsive classroom “is about improving social and academic skills in the classroom,” said Mr. Bielen. A responsive-classroom environment teaches students social skills “to grow their independence.” This includes teaching kids to “listen more clearly” and “improving eye contact when speaking with other students,” among other strategies.

One of the main activities of a responsive-classroom approach, according to Mr. Bielen, is the morning meeting. Moreover, “goal creation” by students and “collaborative problem solving” are key components to the responsive-classroom philosophy.

Within the 2021-2022 District Goals was the controversial Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) measure that, according to the district, develops “a framework to promote DEI in the areas of professional development, recruitment, selection and retention of diverse candidates, curriculum and curricular materials, community engagement and school-wide programming.”

The measure, which was included in the district goals in order to align with state-mandated education policy, elicited an impassioned response from the public, both opposed to and in support of the measure.

“One of the main reasons we chose Westfield was for the strong public school system, and the district’s commitment to academics,” said resident Lisa Donofrio. “Sadly, we seem to have lost our way. The priority over the last few years has shifted from academics to social-justice issues.”

“There is no curriculum audit for academic measurements, particularly after a year where so much is lost,” said Ms. Donofrio. “I’m increasingly concerned that the line has been crossed between curriculum and politics. Gone are the days of a student not knowing where his teacher’s political and personal feelings lie.”

Speaking out in favor of the DEI in the classroom was Westfield senior Sam Broaddus.

Sam spoke out in support of DEI being taught in the classroom and students learning about the difficult parts of United States history, especially when it comes to racism. He characterized racism as a “living organism” that must be confronted.

After referencing the activism of prior generations, like young people who protested the Vietnam War and prior generations’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, Sam said, “We, the new generation, will be responsible for social change.”

As part of the 2021-2022 District Goals, Westfield Public Schools outlined communication as a top priority, with an emphasis on providing “clear, concise and consistent messaging regarding district-wide goals and initiatives.”

Another top priority in this school year’s district goals is providing a “safe return to in-person learning with a focus on student and staff wellness, health and safety, and educational continuity.”

The passage of this school year’s district goals was preceded by an attempt to amend the document to include Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) language into the district’s goals. The amendment was struck down 5 to 2.

The failed amendment, led by Mr. Bielen and seconded by Mr. Galligan, came after impassioned comments in which Mr. Bielen advocated for measurable academic goals to be included in this year’s district goals, specifically measurable STEM goals.

“By the end of the year, we should show what our improvement is in the district, in the STEM- and engineering-focused areas,” said Mr. Bielen. “And then next year, maybe we will go on to science. I understand we can’t address everything at once.”

Mr. Bielen drew upon his own personal experience with engineering and STEM and described the potential benefit for students post-graduation.

“I feel like we’ve gone astray from the purpose of the goals,” said Ms. Olig, prior to the amendment vote. “The purpose of the goals isn’t, ‘this is the only thing we’re focusing on,’” she stated. “We’re calling out certain curriculum, that we’re going to look at in particular, to align with new state requirements.”

Ms. Root, Mr. Garrison, Ms. Morrelli, Ms. Ohlig and Ms. Patel voted no. Mr. Galligan and Mr. Bielen voted yes.

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