The town of Westford school committee meeting on Monday, November 8, covered a variety of topics, including updates on COVID-19 Test and Stay program protocols, elementary school improvement plans, and the controversy surrounding the Westford Academy school mascot.
The meeting began with an informational update from Superintendent Christopher Chew. During his update, the superintendent explained that he recently met with the Westford Academy Trustees, an organization that helps provide opportunities and scholarships to Westford Academy students. He stated that the organization is “something that is very unique to us”, applauding the benefits the organization provides to students at Westford Academy.
The superintendent also discussed the recent introduction of a civil rights reporting form, where students and faculty of Westford Public Schools have the opportunity to report any civil rights violations they experienced, a feature that the superintendent believes is very important to offer to the school community. He ensured that hard copies of the form will be distributed around school facilities as well.
Student representatives were also present at the meeting, and they stated that the school has been doing a thorough job in its recognition of the diversity amongst its student body, such as allowing students an excused absence from having to do homework in order to celebrate cultural and religious holidays. Student Representative Meghna Kumar noted that the downside of the free-pass on homework only pushes it off and adds more work to complete the next day.
The next part of the meeting shifted towards the main topics and included an update on COVID-19 “Test and Stay” program which was started last week. The superintendent explained to the school board how the testing process has been going for Westford Public Schools. (00:28:05 start time on the video linked below.)
Chew mentioned that WA Principal, James Antonelli, has resent the proof of vaccination attestation to students and although the school encourages students to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination records, 879 of the 1,549 students have provided attestation, just over 50%.
The meeting continued by introducing the elementary school improvement plans, which were presented by the six principals of the six elementary schools in Westford. They included Kevin Lacoste of the Robinson School, Sharon Kennelly of the Crisafulli School, Chris Sardella of the Day School, Susan DuBois of the Nabnasset School, Lori McDermott of the Abbot School, and Melissa Boylan of the Miller School.
The principles of these elementary schools have been working collaboratively on three specific goals that are intended to improve the elementary schools in Westford. (00:40:50 start time on the video linked below.)
“The first goal is that all students and staff will implement the strategies and tools to continue to build social emotional competencies needed to be successful members of the school community and beyond,” Principal Kennelly stated. “We will continue to build on the model of sense and belonging in all of our schools.”
As stated by Principal Sardella, “the second goal is to create a collaborative and inclusive culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusive practices.” Sardella explained that equity and inclusion are inherent in the core values that are currently being practiced throughout the six elementary schools in Westford.
Lastly, Principal DuBois stated that the third goal that the principals intended to implement is focused on teaching and learning using assessments to improve learning quality and standards. “We know that assessment plays a critical role in learning and the snapshot that we get provides information on how we’re going to go forward and it’s important to understand that the connection between the two, assessment and instruction, is a defining characteristic of effective classroom instruction.” said DuBois. What this means is that the principals are hoping to use familiar and new standardized tests to see where their students currently stand academically.
The last business agenda topic that was discussed at the meeting pertained to the Westford Academy’s school mascot, the grey ghost. Controversy has emerged surrounding the mascot due to its connotations with Confederate officer Colonel John Mosby, who was known as “the Gray Ghost.” (1:15:02 start time on the video linked below.)
Last year, a Westford Academy alumni created a change.org petition to replace the grey ghost mascot, which received over 500 signatures. This caused a major divide in the Westford community over whether or not to remove or change the mascot.
Those who argued against the mascot claimed that its connotations with the Confederacy had no place in the Westford community, while those defending it suggested that the mascot was merely inspired by the title of a popular television series, “The Gray Ghost” which was aired back in the 1950s when the mascot was first created, despite the school being founded in 1792.
After hearing feedback from members of the Westford Academy community, Superintendent Chew called on the school committee to draft a resolution which would remove the word “grey” from the mascot and rebrand the image of the mascot as well. He believed that this would be the best way to move forward with the situation and ensure that nobody in the Westford Academy community would feel offended or marginalized by the mascot.
There will be a discussion and a vote will take place during the Westford School Committee meeting scheduled for November 22, 2021, on whether to proceed with the proposed changes to the Westford Academy school mascot.
The meeting concluded with the academic coach contract extension and personnel updates. (1:26:48 start time on the video linked below.)