August 1, 2002
Westfield High has only been open two years, and its rapid growth has surprised even Principal Dale Rumberger.
With a building capacity of 2,500 students, it's projected to have 2,775 enrolled in September and a whopping 3,186 by 2006.
"I knew we were going to be big eventually," said Rumberger. "What I didn't expect is to get this big this fast. We weren't scheduled to be 2,700 until the fourth or fifth year.
He attributes the increase to having more former private-school students than expected, as well as to residential infill growth within the school's boundaries. And in many cases, nearby families with grown children moved away, but sold their homes to people with school-age children.
Rumberger also believes Westfield's amazing record of achievements in its short lifetime also attracted new students. "We were a pig in a poke, the first year — nobody had any idea what we were all about," he said. "Now we're a known product, and that's key."
The school's drama department beat Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts in the Theatre Sports competition and walked off with four Cappies for its production of the musical, "Godspell."
"At the science fair, no Fairfax County school — even Jefferson — had more grand-prize winners than us," said Rumberger. "Clearly, our students have shown lots of academic, extra-curricular excellence in the region and in the community." And at the recent year's district competitions, Westfield's chorus, band and orchestra each received superior ratings. Said Rumberger: "My goal was to eventually be there — that we got there so soon is absolutely a tribute to them."
He also noted that 47 percent of the student body takes at least one AP honors course, and he's delighted: "It's a credit to the students' being willing to stretch themselves and to the parents and faculty." And to support that goal, Westfield got a $10,000 grant through the county and through its main business partner, TASC Northrup-Grumman.
It funded supplies, materials and salaries to offer an institute, in July, for students taking honors or AP courses for the first time. Since they'll be doing more rigorous work, the institute helped prepare them so they'll have a better chance of being successful in these courses. Although it was aimed at under-represented populations, such as female students not usually taking certain subjects, it was open to all Westfield students.
"The philosophy of this school is to offer as rigorous a curriculum to as many students as possible to get them used to doing hard work before they're on their own," explained Rumberger. Noting that Westfield had the highest percentage — 13 percent — of special-education students of all the county high schools, he was proud that, last year, some of them also took honors courses — and without special-ed adaptations.
It's no wonder then, factoring in all these elements, that Westfield will soon be bursting at the seams with students. Rumberger expected to hire 30-35 new teachers last year and instead hired 54. Good thing. By April, enrollment stood at 2,324.
"We went up 700 kids — from [the first year's] 1,604 to 2,324 was a big jump," he said. "We were predicted to be at 2,299 in September 2001, and we opened with 2,306."
Some 715 freshmen composed the largest class, closely followed by some 695 sophomores. "They're predicting 733 freshman [this fall] — meaning more books and a higher cost of running the school," said Rumberger. "We've already run out of lockers; we have 2,650, and I'll need 2,750."
Westfield already received four more classrooms this summer and is earmarked for a 12-room modular unit in 2004 and another one in 2006. Meanwhile, space originally intended for aerospace-aviation students is being turned into classrooms for other subjects.
The school already teaches two sections of this topic, but can do without these rooms for a bit, while putting the finishing touches on its Aerospace Academy program. Rumberger hopes that the aerospace-aviation program can become an academy in fall 2003.
Also because of overcrowding, both Cluster VIII Director Betsy Goodman and an independent auditor of the school's finances had to vacate their Westfield High offices so they could be used for classrooms. The school is also converting some storage space into classrooms. It was initially wired for technology and will now be pressed into service.
"But once we're done with it all, I won't have any additional space," said Rumberger. Any further classrooms will come via modular units — containing lockers, bathrooms and meeting spaces.
Meanwhile, he couldn't be happier with his students. "The community sent some outstanding kids," he said. As for Westfield, Rumberger calls it a "work in progress."
"As long as people give me that much, I'm going to continue to work as hard as I can for this school and for the community," he said. "We'll continue to refine and improve our product. And I appreciate all the encouragement and support of the community because — when it comes — it's really heartfelt."