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No Slowing Down: As the Fastest-Growing City in the State, the Westfield-Washington School District Plans for the Future

by Christy Heitger-Ewing

Westfield has steadily grown over the past two decades. In the 2002-2003 school year, 4,333 students were enrolled in the Westfield-Washington School District. By the 2022-2023, however, that number had jumped to 9,087. According to Brian Tomamichel, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Operations, the school district has grown every year since, even during the pandemic. Just since 2021, they have added 725 kids.

“To put that into perspective, in the last two years we’ve grown a whole other elementary school building worth of kids,” says Tomamichel. That trend looks to continue next year.

Part of Westfield’s appeal is that it has a lot to offer in terms of housing, schooling, shopping, and entertainment while still maintaining its “small-town” vibe.

“Yes, we’re growing, but we still feel like a tight-knit community, and I think people are attracted to that,” says Tomamichel.

The Westfield-Washington School District looked at the tenets of what they wanted to do as a district, and that includes offering excellent academics, multiple extracurriculars, and plentiful opportunities for students in their post-school lives. Then they asked themselves how to progress in each of those ways so that they could determine how they needed to develop as a district. They came up with Destination Westfield, a plan that will enable the district to continue to provide academic rigor, increase extracurricular offerings, and provide leadership opportunities for students.

For starters, they wanted to maintain smaller class sizes. And since students do better when they don’t have to continually adjust to a new learning environment, the district worked to reduce the number of transitions students must make throughout their schooling years. In order to align their grades to do that, they have elected to build two new elementary schools and a new middle school. Doing so will enable the reconfiguration of buildings to become K-5 elementary schools and 6-8 middle schools; this eliminates the transition from grade 4 to grade 5 and grade 6 to grade 7.

In September 2022, the district opened an early learning center, which serves children from 12 weeks of age through pre-K. They already reached capacity this year. Therefore, they plan to expand that program next year by building an addition onto the early learning building.

One thing that often gets overlooked during school district expansions is the stress it puts on general operations in the district. Therefore, later this fall or early next spring they will break ground on a new transportation center.

“Our current transportation center is 20+ years old. It’s back from when we were a 3,000-kid district and now we have tripled in size,” says Tomamichel. “When you go from having a 30-school bus fleet to having 100 busses, the makeup of how you operate changes drastically as a result.”

Opportunities for students is the final piece of the puzzle so as they move forward, they are exploring what it looks like to construct an addition to their high school’s performing arts center. While the district has its beautiful football stadium, they would like to build a field to provide an additional practice space for many teams and organizations.

“The marching band needs a field to practice on just as much as the football team needs a field to practice on,” says Tomamichel. “We want to make sure we have adequate field space for all of our teams. This is especially true if we need space for two JV teams, a varsity team and a freshman team.”

In order to have more opportunities for athletes, they need to have more playing fields, whether it’s baseball, football, or soccer. Therefore, they will continue to partner with community groups to make sure students have access to enough fields and courts.

In addition, the agriculture programs are growing so the district plans to look at what science-type space will be needed in order for them to be able to provide those offerings going forward.

“We want to continue to be the top destination district that people flock to while maintaining that small-town feel that everybody likes,” says Joshua Andrews, Director of Communications. “This is why with Destination Westfield, we’re making sure our elementary buildings align with one another so that no matter which school a student attends, they will have a Westfield experience. In addition, as they progress from elementary to middle to high school, there are consistencies throughout that experience.”

The town of Westfield does the same by offering a ton of chances to connect the community through the Chamber of Commerce, Westfield Welcome, and the many clubs such as Women of Westfield. That’s why everywhere you go, you see someone you know.

“Our city is intentionally creating these experiences so people can get to know one another on a deeper basis,” says Andrews.