Westhampton Elementary School wins national honor

  • Colleen Gilbert, a reading specialist, works with Julia Meehan,6, at Westhampton Elementary which has been designated a National Blue Ribbon School by the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jenny Finnie, 6th grade teacher at Westhampton Elementary which has been designated a National Blue Ribbon School by the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deane Bates, principal at Westhampton Elementary which has been designated a National Blue Ribbon School by the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sarah Overstreet, a fourth grade teacher, works with Cadence Ericson at Westhampton Elementary School, which has been designated a National Blue Ribbon School by the Department of Education in Washington. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/8/2019 11:50:59 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Westhampton Elementary School may only have 125 students, with one class each for pre-K through sixth grade, but it’s clearly punching above its academic weight.

Late last month, the school received a designation as a National Blue Ribbon School from the U.S. Department of Education. It was nominated for this designation, which has been given out since 1982, by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

“We get to be an example,” said Westhampton Principal Deane Bates.

Westhampton was named a School of Recognition in 2018 for exceeding MCAS targets, high growth and high achievement by the Massachusetts Department of Education. This was the third time it earned this distinction.

A school is designated as a National Blue Ribbon School either through exemplary academic performance or progress closing achievement gaps between a school’s student subgroups and all of its students. Westhampton earned the designation this year through the performance pathway.

Westhampton Elementary School is among 362 schools designated as National Blue Ribbon Schools this year, and the only school so designated in Hampshire County. In total, six such schools from Massachusetts were chosen.

The award comes with a plaque and a flag, which will be awarded to Westhampton Elementary in a ceremony that will take place Nov. 14-15 in Washington, and which Bates and sixth-grade teacher Jenny Finnie will attend.

“It’s nice recognition for us,” said Bates.

“I’m very proud of everyone,” said Finnie.

While the designation doesn’t come with a cash prize, Bates did note an area in which it has tangible value.

“It’s just really good marketing,” said Bates.

Now in his 18th year, Bates said that since he became principal, the local school population has decreased by close to a third. However, what has helped to make up for this has been students choosing Westhampton through school choice.

“Schooling in Massachusetts is fairly competitive now,” he said, noting the number of options available.

He also said that he’d informed the students on Friday that the award was really about their hard work.

“The kids who come home from soccer practice at 8:30 and still do homework. The kids who read for 60 hours over summer break, who really take their education seriously,” he said.

As for the basis of Westhampton’s success, Bates noted the low turnover among its teachers. He also said that Westhampton does not teach to the test.

“We build from a strength-based approach,” said Bates, who said that teachers focus on the process of learning and not just on results.

“It’s more about meeting kids where they are,” Bates said. Also, he said, the school’s small size allows for the differentiation of curriculum to a high degree.

Additionally, Bates said the town has been very supportive of its school.

Finnie is in her 20th year teaching at Westhampton Elementary, a job she took right out of college.

“I don’t have any plans on going anywhere,” she said. “I love what I do.”

She also said that the school doesn’t teach to the test.

Additionally, Finnie, a Westfield resident, chose to have her two sons schooled in Westhampton.

“It’s a pretty special little place here,” she said.

Sarah Overstreet is in her 11th year of teaching fourth grade in Westhampton. She said that the community is supportive and the kids come invested in their learning.

“It’s pretty ideal to work here,” she said.

However, she said that she thinks the school is “more than an award,” and that the designation doesn’t make a difference for her teaching. And she said that people at Westhampton Elementary join together when there is a need.

“That is the difference,” she said.

Asked about their school’s achievement, a number of students expressed pride in it.

“I feel like we’ve worked very, very hard,” said sixth-grader Owen Drysdale.

“I’m definitely super happy,” said Bridget Sullivan, another sixth-grader.

Sullivan is in her first year at Westhampton, having transferred from Northampton via school choice. She said that everyone in her class is “super nice,” and she also praised the academic quality of her new school.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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