School chief sees Westfield community improving
WESTFIELD – Although Westfield Academy and Central School district can boast of many bright stars – from talented teachers to national awards to innovative programs – the future of the district might best be summed up in the English poet John Donne’s words: “No man is an island.”
“It takes more than just a school,” said School Superint-endent David Davison. “It’s all about community.”
By community, Davison referred to both the school staff working together, and the Westfield community at large. He meets with government, business and development representatives at least once a month to discuss the good of the overall community and WACS impact on the community.
“When people look to move, they look at many things such as the quality of the school, the community and employment,” Davison said. “This is a great community with close proximity to larger cities like Jamestown and Erie. . Our hardworking staff and what we can offer plays a role in the overall appeal of Westfield.”
The future of the school is linked to that of the town, and Westfield has a promising future thanks to people such as Aaron Resnick, executive director of the Westfield Development Corporation, Davison said. “The man works non-stop. He is an awesome ambassador for Westfield,” he said.
Resnick agrees that the community and district are inseparably tied to one another. “I see WACS and the Westfield community as a collaborative. WACS is able to provide exceptional educational opportunities for our children while the Westfield community works to enhance quality of life through community and economic development initiatives – they both serve to enhance the other,” Resnick said. “From my perspective, they are not separate and distinct entities, but rather, a collective that supports one another for continued success.”
What WACS has to offer is no small matter, either. Davison credits the teaching staff will creating an environment for learning. “I’ve never seen a harder-working staff. They care about the kids’ success. That spills over into the community,” he said.
The district was thrust into the national limelight this past January when music teacher Kent Knappenberger won the first ever Grammy Award for Music Education.
In the same year, science teacher Lon Knappenberger was designated as a Master Teacher by the state of New York. He also teaches biotechnology at Jamestown Community College and is a leader in biotechnology research in New York. Knappenberger has been recognized nationally and even globally for his work at the school in biotechnology, especially genetics.
WACS business education teacher Kim Abbey is in the process of developing a Leadership Academy expected to begin in 2015. The program seeks to encourage leadership qualities in students; promote public speaking skills; teach students to carry a project from design to implementation to follow up; and to engage students in community service.
“Kids today see so much success in athletes and powerful business professionals, but it is important that they realize that the success of these people is based on strong leadership skills,” Abbey said. “The future WACS Leadership Academy is a unique course that concentrates on leadership and will help prepare our high school students personally and professionally for their college and future career goals. My objective is to motivate and inspire the leader within every student on my roster.”
For five years, U.S. History teacher Greg Birner has led the “We The People” program, which engages students in the political process. The program aims to help students become better citizens; develop their public speaking skills; and teaches them to analyze facts and formulate conclusions, he said. This year, every student in “We The People” and the AP Government and Politics class passed the exam and is eligible to receive college credit, he said.
“You hear everyone talking politics on the streets, in the house, in the school, in the office, etc. and odds are, not many of them know how the government actually functions. Most would probably fail a basic government test,” Birner said. My first goal is to get the kids away from media … Fox News, MSNBC, CNN … most of it is filled with an agenda. Every citizen must research and discover subjects that interest them before they even think about taking a news report seriously.”
The district tries to keep adapting the course offerings to student needs, as well, Davison said. “We are constantly monitoring what our students like and need and new course offerings evolve as we look to prepare our students as best we can for their future,” he said.
Recently WACS has been adopted by Reynold Inc. in the “Dream It Do It” program which links students to careers in manufacturing. Reynold Inc., formerly Ajax Flexible Coupling Company, is one of the largest mechanical power transmission companies in the world.
Davison said he is very excited about a new robotics program being developed for WACS by Dan Martin. The course will begin with middle school students and then expand into the high school.
Technology staff members are working hard to get the district’s new computer lab ready for the coming year, Davison said. He also noted that WACS has added at least five AP courses during the past year. “As do all districts, we work hard to offer a quality education to our students,” he said.
The district has several means for getting the word out about what it has to offer, Davison said. Anyone who checks Westfield’s facebook page will find an easy link to what is going on at the school.
WACS is also working on a video to be placed on the school’s webpage and linked to the community, Davison said. Entitled, “What Does It Mean To Be A Wolverine?” the video is student-led and created. “If someone is looking to move to our district, they can catch a quick, live look at it,” he said.
And what of the financial picture? Districts throughout Chautauqua County have been feeling the number crunch for some years, but the situation appears to be improving for WACS, Davison said. In 2012, a study painted a bleak financial picture. However, since then, a 15-year outlook study concluded that area population will decrease slightly and then increase in the years to come, he said.
“That picture has changed from 2012. At least for now, the outlook for our finances is better,” he said. “But management and labor will need to work together for the long range stability of the district.”
The school has also benefited from increased state aid, Davison said. And the “Friends of Education” fund has continued to grow through grants and donations, he said.
WACS is also in the beginning stages of a capital project that will, in the years to come, address buildings and grounds renewal and maintenance, as well as future needs, Davison said. “We are excited that we can take care of our house. Everyone can relate to needing repairs on one’s roof or plumbing or driveway,” he said. “And the project will allow us to put the infrastructure we need for future technology.”
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