State of the school

Ian Rees

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There have been a plethora of new initiatives and policies at WJ this year. The Pitch sat down with Ms. Baker to discuss them.

Photo credit to William Mills

There have been a plethora of new initiatives and policies at WJ this year. The Pitch sat down with Ms. Baker to discuss them.

WJ is well into the 2018-2019 school year providing ample time to reflect on the new atmosphere of the school, how certain changes are faring and how the new freshman class, the largest in WJ history, has made their transition into high school.

Principal Jennifer Baker first discussed the biggest change to WJ this year; the huge freshman class and how they’ve affected the school.

“Our biggest adjustment that we’ve had to make is that we got three portables, so we have three additional classrooms that have been added to the school,” Baker said. “We’ve had to make some adjustments in terms of security, such as opening doors in between classes to monitor who’s coming in and out because obviously students need to get from portables into the building.”

In addition to portables, a new administrator as well as newer security measures have been added.

“Our growth has allowed us to acquire Mr. Leaman a new administrator. We’ve tightened things up security wise, we’re locking up gates that didn’t used to be locked, trying to close the campus as much as possible during the school day so that people have to come through the front door,” Baker said. “It’s imperative that students do not let anyone in the building.”

WJ won’t be able to sustain such population growth in the coming years, and as many know, the current site of Tilden Middle School, will be renovated and become Woodward High School again.

“They will be opening Woodward in the future, but I’m not sure how they’ll zone that, or if they’ll make it a magnet sort of school that you have to apply to. I’m waiting like everyone else about what’s going to happen there,” Baker said. “I don’t think they’ll have students there before 2023.”

Last year was the first time students saw a concerted effort by administration to tackle mental health issues, which became more prevalent last year with the suicide of WJ student Tommy Silva.

“The cluster as a whole is focusing more on mental health and wellness this year. We’ve brought two speakers in for parents and I think we’ll try to bring similar speakers to students,” Baker said.“I started a health and wellness committee that has parents, students and teachers on it and we’re currently looking at ways of reducing stress for students.”

Baker also said that administration is looking into more school-wide events similar to the “stress-buster” day WJ held last year.

“We’re looking at different half-day type things, such as the stress buster day last year and whether we want to do that again or do something more on a regular basis, we’re looking at all types of idea to help students have a healthier happier experience here,” Baker said.

There’s been a notable change in standardized testing policy, with the PARCC test being replaced.

“The state of Maryland is changing the PARCC test and making it the Maryland comprehensive assessment program. The term PARCC will be faded out. It’ll be the same this year in regards to the test but they’re trying to make it so students spend less time on this test, and with testing in general. It might take a couple years to completely play out,” Baker said.

This will also be the first year the MISA testing will be implemented, with 11th graders taking science-based test.

Vaping has been a staple trend of teens as of late, and administration has no plans on accommodating this trend.

“We won’t just let kids vape in the school. Depending on the circumstances, vaping will result typically in in-school suspension,” Baker said.

Administration, at the instruction of an FDA campaign aimed to end the teen vape-epidemic, put up anti-vape posters on bathroom doors throughout the building.

A noteworthy change in policy this year is the new attendance intervention policy. After three unexcused absences from a class, a warning letter from the front office will be created and mailed home. After five, another letter will be sent home and the student’s counselor will be notified. If a student accrues more than five unexcused absences in a class, their administrator will meet with them and the potential for an attendance intervention plan (AIP) will be discussed. If more unexcused absences are recorded, an AIP will be implemented and the student may be asked to make up missed-class time before or after school, or at lunch.

On a positive note, end of the year ‘climate’ surveys, measuring staff’s level of happiness in the workplace, came back very positive.

“We’ve done well on our climate surveys which is great, staff is happy to come work and are working together very well so I think students see that  and are becoming more and more happy and proud of our school environment,” Baker said.