Each new year brings more and more students to Westfield High, and this year is no exception.
"Opening-day enrollment was 3,230 students," said the new principal, Tim Thomas. "Pretty soon, we'll have our own ZIP code."
Nonetheless, he said, "The kids and community are happy, and we have a satisfied staff." And that includes Thomas, Westfield's former lead assistant principal who was named to the top job when previous principal Mike Campbell switched to Centreville High.
BECAUSE OF its size, the school has seven assistant principals. Six are subschool principals and one, Dave Jagels, was promoted to lead assistant principal. Replacing him as a subschool principal is John Werner, a former assistant principal at Herndon and Fairfax high schools.
"He's a good guy," said Thomas. "I think he'll be a great asset to the school. And Dave has already proven to be a tremendous asset to the school and community. Dave and I are very excited to manage the building together. We both focus on students and teachers and finding the balance to meet the needs of students, faculty and the community."
Westfield students are now able to use a new, brick-and-mortar, 25-classroom addition to the school. And opening it and the rest of the school, at the same time, was quite an effort.
Thomas believes it was the most daunting opening of Westfield ever, since it began six years ago, because the school didn't gain occupancy of the new addition until a week before the teachers came back. But he said Steve Nicholson, the liaison between Westfield and the contractor, was accommodating and understanding of the school's needs, as Westfield was to his.
"I'm impressed and proud of not only the individual efforts of the staff members, but also the collaboration between students, staff and parent volunteers to overcome many challenges," said Thomas. "One of the biggest challenges was the relocation of classrooms, furniture and supplies, the integration of technology and the outfitting of subschool offices and workrooms [in the new addition]."
But he said seeing how everyone lent a hand made him proud to be part of Westfield. "From administrators and teachers moving furniture to the coordination of students, parents and administrators in the assembly and distribution of the first-day packets, everyone pitched in — including the custodial staff," said Thomas.
Subschools Three and Six moved from the main building to the addition. The structure also houses classrooms for math, foreign language, business and special education.
Work was done on the existing building, too, and included the renovation of three business classrooms into science classrooms. As a result, the school gained two chemistry rooms and one biology room.
And not only does the new section look good, said Thomas, but having it "offers tremendous relief. It lets us spread out, and we have about 400 lockers there, too."
It's a three-story building, but the basement is not yet finished. However, plans to create additional classrooms there are already in the works. And Westfield also gained more space in the cafeteria.
"The creation of the connector between the "E" hallway and the new addition resulted in an extra 300-400 square feet in the cafeteria," said Thomas. "That allowed us to designate a portion of the cafeteria for seniors."
AND ALTHOUGH the school still has 18 trailers, because of the new addition 17 trailers were able to be removed from the kiss-and-ride area. Westfield thereby regained faculty parking, thus freeing-up more parking for students and visitors. And, said Thomas, "I think it's created a better flow of traffic in the morning and enabled people to use this area again as a kiss-and-ride."
The school has more than 200 teachers and a total staff of nearly 300. The 40-some new staff members include about 25 teachers, some new to education and some more experienced. There's also a new AP European History class, as Westfield continues to offer "a broad variety of challenging and enlightening courses, both academic and non-academic," said Thomas.
As always, the staff encourages students to seek challenges beyond their comfort level because, said Thomas, "When challenged, they'll rise. We also pride ourselves on maintaining enrollment in those courses and supporting them. We want our students to be well-rounded individuals prepared for the future — whether it's college, the military or the workforce."
Saying that Westfield has distinguished itself as a successful institution of learning, Thomas said an emphasis for the year will be to support all students in all endeavors. But, he added, "There'll also be a tremendous amount of focus on narrowing achievement gaps."
He said every day as principal is exciting and satisfying for him, and he was well-prepared for the job's challenges and rewards. He especially enjoys "seeing people work together for a common goal, keeping students' best interests in the forefront and maintaining positive relationships with students."
"It was exciting to see kids come back to school and congratulate me on being the new principal," said Thomas. "And I feel my familiarity with the students, staff and building helped minimize my anxiety about the opening of school."
He's also pleased that the staff will focus on team-building, collaboration and making a big school small — for the staff as well as the students. For example, there was a tailgate party for staff members and their families before last Friday's football game.
"Basically, I want people to enjoy coming to Westfield as much as I do," said Thomas. "Watching kids excel, in and out of the classroom, represents only a portion of the many, intrinsic rewards of working in education at Westfield High."
This year's theme is "Proud of Our Past, Focused on Our Future." Said Thomas: "It means there are many accomplishments that deserve recognition, for which we feel honored. But at the same time, we'll reflect on our past to affect decision-making for our future. We look at what's going well and what's not and try to improve every year."