When Westfield High opened its doors in September 2000, it had just 1,604 students in a school built for 2,500. But now, just three years later, its enrollment has nearly doubled to 2,916.
Westfield had 2,720 students when school ended in June, but has gained almost 200 more since then — an increase of 1,312 since it first began. As a result, it's making some changes to accommodate them all.
"We've added five, double-wide trailers — two classrooms each — to the two trailers — four classrooms total — we already had," said Principal Dale Rumberger. "And in November, there's an $8.7 million bond issue to build 24 additional classrooms. They'd go to bid in February, start construction in the spring and open in September 2005."
Noting the importance of getting that bond referendum passed, he said, "We've got to take care of the future, too." Meanwhile, the school is doing whatever it can to alleviate overcrowding.
IT ALSO ADDED more than 100 seats, plus some new, six-person booths, in the cafeteria and rearranged the furniture there to have more room. The guidance area has been enlarged for more efficient use of the space, and a storage area was turned into a counselor's office.
Additions not related to growth were the lights, and bleachers seating 500 people, that were added to the outdoor track and field-hockey area. These items were courtesy of Westfield's athletic boosters, who've been raising money for them, the past three years.
The school has 34 new teachers, five new counselors and a pair of new administrators. Dave Jaegels, who was a special-projects teacher, is now an assistant principal. And Gretchen Portwood returns to Westfield as a subschool principal, replacing Jane Dreyfuss who is now the countywide SOL-remediation coordinator.
On the academic front, Rumberger said the school's spent lots of time reviewing its SOL results and tailoring courses in math and English to more closely align with what's on the SOL tests. In addition, last year, 52.7 percent of Westfield students took at least one honors or AP course, and Rumberger hopes students will do likewise or better, this year.
"Our goal is to maximize the opportunities for kids to be as successful as possible," he said. "We're adding anatomy and physiology so kids with a heavy AP workload already can take a non-AP science."
THERE'S ALSO a special focus on having 100 percent of the seniors graduate. Said Rumberger: "This is our first group of pure-bred Bulldogs — the first ones who started here as freshmen."
He also wants to get all students to take more challenging courses than they think they're able to do. "We're obviously proud of our SAT increase and the number of kids each year taking AP classes and doing well in them," he said. "Nobody's had the growth in enrollment in AP classes that we've had."
Last year, he said, some 35 percent of all the sophomores, juniors and seniors took AP classes, and he gives a great deal of the credit to social studies department chairman Lynn Davies. Said Rumberger: "She wanted to introduce the kids to the AP concept before they took the courses and to create a support level — not to just get kids into AP courses — but to maintain them in it through academics, mentoring, counseling, study skills, etc."
Westfield students get this preparation during a four-day, 6-9 p.m., program in the summer. "We had 152 kids in it, this past summer," said Rumberger. "I think it's an exciting concept. It's better to learn how to learn to do more difficult things in high school, rather than waiting until college."
"The tradition begins" was the school's motto during its first year. The motto, this year, is "The Tradition is EXCELLENCE." As in many other local schools, Westfield has Korean- and Spanish-language liaisons, as well as African-American. "I want every culture represented," said Rumberger. "It's scary when parents think they're the only ones [having a problem]."
EAGER AND ENTHUSIASTIC about the start of another school year, he said Westfield is always building on its successes and trying to improve wherever it can. For example, tests are one of the ways the school can assess how well it's delivering its educational product. But, he said, it's also important to recognize and acknowledge the tremendous efforts made by the students.
"So many kids try so hard, so often, and my goal is to try to tell them they are and that they're doing well," said Rumberger. "I remain excited and committed, and we're still going strong. I'm continually impressed by how seriously we take education in Fairfax County and what great support we have from the community, teachers and staff. We started out, three years ago, to build a learning community — and now people are seeing one taking shape."