Leading Model Schools: How One Superintendent is Developing a Strong Vision for the Future

Since becoming the superintendent of Massachusetts’s Westfield School District last summer, Mr. Stefan Czaporowski has been working with staff, students and the larger Westfield community to develop a strong vision for the district, with a specific focus on improving student literacy.

We had a chance to talk with Mr. Czaporowski about the programs and initiatives that are helping to engage the Westfield community, inspire teachers and staff, and prepare students for college, careers and beyond.

HMH: What professional habits do you think are important for a superintendent to possess?

Mr. Czaporowski: I think it is critical for superintendents to be active communicators and listeners. Effectively communicating the district goals to all stakeholders and listening to their viewpoints helps to enhance buy-in while also increasing opportunities for success. I am a strong proponent of collaborative leadership. For any initiative to truly move forward, support from stakeholders is critical. This can only be accomplished by communicating with our community members and listening to their valuable input.

Identifying administrators as instructional leaders can help to shape the vision for a school district. Here in Westfield, the most important goal we have for our schools is to ensure that students are learning and achieving at high levels so that they are prepared for the future. Our administrative team must embrace this instructional leadership role and support our teachers as much as possible to achieve this goal.

HMH:  You mentioned the importance of listening to valuable input and obtaining support from stakeholders. In what ways are you communicating with the larger Westfield community to gather their feedback about the current and future state of the school district?

Mr. Czaporowski: A few months into my new role as superintendent, I created an Entry Plan Survey that was distributed across the district. The feedback will be used to guide our goals for the 2017-2018 school year. The survey focuses on teaching and learning practices and outcomes, as well as school and district culture, communication, finances, governance and leadership. I have also established a Parent Advisory Board which met for the first time in April. Initially, this group will help develop a parent survey to be distributed across the district so that we can use parent feedback to create additional goals.

In addition, I host community meet and greets, write a quarterly column for our local newspaper and host a weekly radio show which broadcasts on our local cable channel and highlights the many exciting developments going on in our schools.

HMH: Can you explain how Westfield School District is working with the larger Westfield community?

Mr. Czaporowski: One example of our collaboration with the Westfield community is our work with local businesses, which has developed and grown into a partnership with the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce known as the Westfield Education to Business Alliance (WE2BA). Over 20 businesses are involved in the alliance, and the organization is in the process of developing a mentoring program between the businesses and students, as well as career events at each of our schools this spring. This initiative only began this past November, so we are extremely pleased with its progress and promise for the future.

HMH: Can you highlight some programs that have been successfully implemented in your district over the past year?

Mr. Czaporowski: One significant success I would identify is our "Friday Field Trips" program, which enables our entire Central Office Administrative Team to visit multiple schools on a weekly basis. Thanks to this program, our team now has a very good idea of the instruction and climate at each of our schools. This concept is also making our Central Office Team more accessible to school staff.

Alternative education is another area of accomplishment for our district this year. To meet the needs of some of our more at-risk students, we developed "Pathways." Through this program, high school students can work or perform community service during normal school hours and complete their academic coursework (including credit recovery) from 3:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Currently, 14 students are enrolled in “Pathways,” including six who have chosen to attend this program after dropping out of high school last year. My hope is that all 14 students will receive their diplomas in June. If this program proves to be successful, we would look at expanding it for next year.

HMH: Literacy is a big focus across your district. Are there any literacy-based initiatives taking place that you would like to highlight?

Mr. Czaporowski:  This past fall, we created our goals and action steps for our new five-year District Literacy Action Plan which builds upon the successes of the past five years, including continued Lexile™  growth and increased student achievement on both classroom and standardized tests. During the 2015-2016 school year, 75% of our students met their Lexile™ growth goal, compared to 71% in 2014-2105.

While the first five years built a foundation for literacy, the next five will focus on teacher instruction and student achievement. Creating purposeful opportunities for writing across the curriculum, with a spotlight on argument writing, is a priority, as is building capacity and stamina for reading and comprehending complex texts. Our Central Office Team knows that our Principals are our district's frontline instructional leaders, so we support their efforts, especially when it comes to literacy, in order to ensure that they are helping students prepare for the future.

HMH: What is your biggest goal for the district in the next year?

Currently, it is still too early to pinpoint what our top goal(s) will be, as we are still in the data gathering phase of our work which will ultimately drive those decisions. However, reducing the student dropout rate and increasing student achievement are going to remain our top priorities.

The Westfield Public School District has been named an HMH Intervention District of Excellence. You can read more about this prestigious achievement, here.

Samuel Howe, HMH Senior Vice President of Academic Planning and Analysis, was interviewed by Mr. Czaporowski for his weekly one-hour radio show, “Superintendent’s Spotlight” about the tremendous literacy gains made in Westfield. Christopher Rogers, Administrator of Student Interventions of the Westfield School District, and Dan Kane, a READ 180 teacher at an Elementary School in Westfield, also joined the conversation. Mr. Kane, who is retiring this year, discussed his experience using READ 180 and was recognized for his longtime commitment to helping students build literacy skills.  You can watch the complete interview here. (please scroll ahead to 1:01:21)

Be the first to read the latest from Shaped.