A year ago, when Superintendent John Dignan joined Wayne-Westland Community Schools, he was blown away by the rich resources he found within the district. Dignan knows that Wayne-Westland’s unique and varied programming, quality early childhood options and truly supportive whole-family services are hard to find in a single school district these days. Now, he’s making it his mission to sing the district’s praises.
“I’m not sure everyone in our community understands all that we offer. We have so many really unique initiatives, it’s mind blowing,” Dignan says about Wayne-Westland, which provides education to students and families in Westland, Wayne, Canton, Dearborn Heights, Inkster and Romulus, though the district is open to any student in Wayne County.
“Local schools need to be the hub of the community and provide more than academics but resources for families,” Dignan says. A community’s schools have the power to lift its entire population, and Wayne-Westland Community Schools has pieces in place — and big plans for the future — to build and support a strong, successful community. We share just a few of these points of pride.
Phenomenal teachers, pristine buildings
It all starts with individualized education, Dignan says. “When I walk around our schools and watch how engaged our teachers are, it’s unbelievable,” he says. “They are absolutely committed to the profession and you can see how important it is to them. Education is a calling and the great educators have a magic and a synergy. I see that here in Wayne-Westland.”
Professional planning and solid instructional strategies are at the heart of their approach. “You hear about five-tool baseball players who have all the skills needed to truly excel on the diamond. That describes our teachers,” he says. “But here’s the amazing part: They don’t realize how great they are. They’re rock stars but they’re so humble.”
It may seem like a small thing, but Dignan’s pride in the cleanliness of the district’s buildings is strong. “We did not privatize our custodial services and we have, by far, the cleanest buildings of any district I have seen,” Dignan says. “There’s research to support it. Districts that privatize custodial services see the quality of their cleaning go down. In the long run, you lose.”
By keeping custodians — who typically live in the district — on staff, the district supports the larger community, Dignan explains. “The custodians live in the community. They vote for the bonds that support their schools. But more importantly, they bring pride to their buildings and it shows.”
A school-based health clinic in one school in Wayne-Westland Community Schools, through a partnership with Beaumont, CNS Healthcare and Easterseals, makes the district responsive to the physical and mental health needs of students, and supports the needs of the working community, Dignan says.
“When our families need to take time off work to take their child to the doctor, they don’t get paid, so it’s very important for kids to have access to our school-based health clinic,” he says. “It opens up a suite of services that medical providers can offer and it’s a highlight for families. As a parent, I would like to know that if my daughter didn’t feel well she could go to the clinic and see if she has a fever.”
With this clinic comes mental health support, too. “We have many services, if not the most in Michigan, to meet the mental health needs of our kids, which is so important with COVID and its aftermath,” Dignan says.
Three free family resource centers provide district families with school supplies, gas cards, income resources and support when needed. “You truly have to see it to appreciate it,” Dignan says. “Those who run the spaces are all-in. They go the extra mile, and it’s phenomenal.”
To create equity everywhere in the district — including school cafeterias — Wayne-Westland provides breakfast and lunch to every student for free. “We know that student achievement is directly tied to food security and our kids deserve the best,” Dignan says. “Sometimes as a parent, you don’t know if you are coming or going. We are proud to help parents know their child isn’t going to be hungry and will have a good meal, and it is actually a really high-quality meal.” When kids are involved in extracurricular activities that keep them at school later in the day, they can get dinner for free, too.
Early childhood, too
Wayne-Westland’s Early Childhood Center serves the youngest learners with several free programs and preschool programs for kids up to age 5. At a time when many districts are cutting back, Wayne-Westland has a strong elementary Talented and Gifted program and world languages offered from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Goals for students’ futures
Because educators at the district recognize lifelong career success requires the need for more than a high school diploma, Wayne-Westland Schools is helping students earn their diplomas and a little bit more. “Our goal is to have our kids graduate with certifications, college credit or even an associate degree as a way to empower them and give them an advantage,” Dignan says.
Partnerships with Schoolcraft College, Eastern Michigan University and Lawrence Technological University can help first generation college students see themselves in these post-secondary environments. “Parents want to help their kids but sometimes they don’t know how. It’s our responsibility to pave that way and make it as easy and seamless as possible for kids to have great opportunities,” Dignan says.
And, an award-winning career technical center offers students the opportunity to gain an education in nineteen existing programs including health occupations, EMT/firefighting, robotics, construction technology, culinary arts and more.
“Soon we will also have a middle college program through Wayne Community College District. It’s just one of several things we have in the pipeline that are unique and cutting-edge,” Dignan says.
Learn more about Wayne-Westland Community Schools at wwcsd.net.