There are a lot of new faces at the Westfield Virtual School. The school’s inaugural principal, Thomas Osborn, came on board in August, and has since hired school secretary Nicole Argiro of Westfield, along with an entirely new slate of teachers for the 110 students in kindergarten through eighth grade enrolled in the school.
The new staff includes grades 5-8 social studies teacher David Castonguay, who served in the Air Force and Air National Guard and has taught in Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee; grades 5-8 English-language arts teacher Jesse Mayhew, who grew up on the campus of Northfield Mount Hermon School, where both of his parents taught; and grades 5-8 science teacher Susan Petrucelli, who grew up in Westfield and has taught at the public school and college levels.
First and second grade teacher Sarah Monroe, originally from South Florida, graduated from Westfield State University with a degree in early childhood education. For the last four years, her focus has been primarily on Montessori curriculum, and she is excited to incorporate that knowledge into the Westfield Virtual School classes.
Kindergarten and first grade teacher Caitlin Coffery also graduated from Westfield State, with a degree in early childhood education. She lives in Westfield, and formerly worked in Abner Gibbs School as a paraprofessional and literacy assistant.
Special education teacher Ann-Mary Cloutier of Deerfield has been a teacher for more than 20 years, and has taught online for seven of them. She is a Title I reading specialist and classroom teacher.
Also hired were third and fourth grade teacher Alicia Frappier and music teacher Randi Humphrey, and school nurse Elizabeth Flaherty of Westfield, who wrote that she is excited to be working with the Westfield Virtual School students.
Osborn, who revealed in his profile that he is a life-long martial artist who holds a black belt in Goshin-Budo jujitsu, said more positions are currently being hired.
“They are a geat group, highly professional, a wonderful caring group of educators,” he said, calling them an innovative and creative group who put the kids at the center of every decision they make, and the best staff he has worked with.
While the school is virtual, the staff have in-person offices on the second and third floors of the First Congregational Church at 18 Broad St., Westfield. Osborn said the staff has done a “phenomenal job” opening the school and setting it up. He said they are still working on some PBIS (positive behavioral interventions and supports) items such as team colors, a mascot, and Virtual School spirit days.
One opportunity this fall is a whole school virtual tour of Whip City Animal Sanctuary, arranged by Petrucelli. Students get to meet the animals and ask questions about them, and talk about the importance of volunteering.
The school has also scheduled a virtual open house for 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, and a new school newsletter is posted on the school’s page at Facebook.com.
“We’re getting the word out,” Osborn said. He said even though online education is not new, the Westfield Virtual School is part of a new wave of virtual opportunities for students who learn best that way. “Obviously, we’ll be getting better and better. We’re already looking forward to next year, and thinking about things we can do next year.”
Osborn added that the support of Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski, whom he considers forward-thinking and innovative, has been invaluable in starting the school.
In a presentation to the School Committee on Oct. 4, Czaporowski said that one of his top three goals for the 2021-22 school year is to open, develop, sustain and expand the Westfield Virtual School.
“I am very impressed with the district's progress with the Westfield Virtual School. Dr. Osborn and his staff are truly committed to the success of their students. The fact that we are also meeting the needs of students who experience more academic success in a virtual environment reinforces our efforts to continue,” he said this week.
Westfield is one of seven public school districts in Massachusetts to open a virtual school since the pandemic began.
Expenses for the Westfield Virtual School, including staff, more robust computers and other equipment, are being paid for over the next three years by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grants, funded by the federal government’s coronavirus relief packages.