Wayne-Westland Community Schools
Where Great Futures Start
Nurturing Student Success Through Innovation and a Holistic Approach to Education
Wayne-Westland Community Schools, in Westland, Michigan, is a district committed to excellence, safety, and holistic student development. With a mission to instill character, confidence, and values, Wayne-Westland serves a diverse student body of 9,200 across Westland, Wayne, Canton, Dearborn Heights, Inkster, and Romulus. From early childhood to high school, the district provides a comprehensive educational journey supported by dedicated staff and collaborative partnerships with businesses and community organizations.
Under the leadership of Superintendent John Dignan, Ed.D., Wayne-Westland Community Schools is optimistically looking toward the future, focusing on innovative initiatives to enhance the educational experience for its diverse student population. “Our approach as a district is around the whole child,” Dignan emphasizes. “We want to ensure that our students are engaged, healthy physically and mentally, and feel supported, safe and challenged.”
The effort started early, in the district’s 15-classroom early childhood center, which was converted into a Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) facility in 2022. “Stottlemyer Early Childhood provides preschool for over 300 students,” reports Dignan. He adds that three of the district’s elementary schools also have Young 5s programs to provide a bridge to kindergarten and allow students to learn in a hands-on, interactive way that supports their development while maintaining rigor and high standards of success. Another form of early childhood guidance is the BUSting with Learning initiative, which provides free literacy resources and activities to students in the community and keeps children engaged in learning to help prevent the summer slide.
STEM Initiatives and Innovative Opportunities
The district’s commitment to STEM education is exemplified by the K-8 STEM Center, providing a centralized space for hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math projects. A planetarium housed at John Glenn High School also enhances learning, allowing students to partake in the immersive experience, complemented by STEM activities. Five students from Walker-Winter Elementary School sent their science experiments into space, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 17. Additionally, an art class contributed by creating patches sent with the experiment and then returned to the students embossed as “flown in space.” “It’s a pretty cool thing,” Dignan remarks. “And it was a direct result of our K-8 STEM Center planting seeds across the district to create some of these organic movements that we’re starting to see, especially around teaching and learning.”
Wayne-Westland Community Schools also supports students through a free elementary athletics program, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic as a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative. The program offers a variety of sports, including flag football, soccer, basketball and cheer. With hundreds of student participants, these opportunities promote physical activity and encourage interaction and a sense of community among peers.
The district will soon be launching a driver’s education program through a $250,000 grant awarded by the Michigan Department of Transportation. “When we talked to skilled trades training centers in the area, I asked them what two barriers are for young people in getting employment,” Dignan expands, “One was marijuana, and the second one was kids don’t have their driver’s license. Segments one and two are costly, and some families are economically challenged within our community. We’re pretty excited about this because we think it’s an incentive for our students to get their driver’s license without financial burden to them or their families.” Additionally, the district is grateful for the investment made by Big Green which has provided learning gardens at each of its schools to offer a valuable tool for teaching students and families the importance of fresh produce and nutrition.
Career Readiness Initiatives
Wayne-Westland Community Schools places a strong focus on preparing students for future careers, recognizing the evolving landscape of employment. Dr. Dignan recounts that the first order of business when he joined the district was the creation of a college and career readiness department.
He shares, “In our comprehensive high schools, we have college and career readiness centers that bring in outside entities, whether junior colleges, four-year institutions, skilled trades, or military job opportunities, and we have a captive audience with our kids. Our career technical program is one of the best in the state of Michigan; we offer 20 different programs for everything from construction to cybersecurity, to HVAC, to welding, to culinary. Our students have an unduplicated second year, so they’re actually out in the field, getting a true hands-on experience there.”
A summer internship program, supported by congressional backing, provides paid real-world experiences for students pursuing diverse career paths. “Students interested in internships can go through an essential skills curriculum, and then we put them out in the field, and we’re able to pay them,” portrays Dignan. “Let’s say they think they want to go into health science and could get a job at the hospital. The hospital can’t pay for that internship, but we’re able to pay for that experience through this grant.”
With the realization that college and career readiness needs to start in the early grades, the district has created several different themes, from career awareness at the elementary level, to exposure during middle school, and practical experience in high school. “We started an early middle college here, and the unique thing about that is that we actually connected our Career Technical Center,” Dignan elaborates.
“What we’re trying to do is have the flexibility to build on top of the different kinds of courses that we offer at the center. So, our students are not only getting industry certifications, but they’re also getting college credit. We have a phenomenal team, and all the credit goes to the people who work here in Wayne-Westland Community Schools. There are many people here who are very innovative, creative, collaborative, and we build on each other’s ideas,which makes a huge difference.”
Through the efforts of Daryl Beebe, Wayne-Westland Community Schools organizes significant Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) events, which stands out as one of the largest in Southeast Michigan. “It’s part of our college and career readiness department, and it was built from the ground up. People look forward to it, and I always have people from other communities asking if they can partake in it. Absolutely they can; we want every student to have access and exposure to different opportunities,” Dignan asserts.
Security Measures and Mental Health Support
Security is a top priority for Wayne-Westland Community Schools, evidenced by the implementation of safety measures such as secure vestibules, advanced locks, and police access to schools in case of emergency. “I think it’s probably the number one priority for any educational entity,” Dignan acknowledges. “As a parent, when your son or daughter goes to school for the day, you expect for them to come home safely. But there’s a fine line too. We don’t want to turn our educational institutions into a penitentiary. It’s not fair to our students, and it’s not fair to our teachers, either. So, our investment really came around mental health.”
Dr. Dignan highlights the value of the Care Solace program in providing mental health support for students and their families. This holistic approach ensures that mental health is a central focus, with a dedicated effort to address concerns and connect individuals with appropriate resources. “In the past, it used to be a counselor who would give you a sheet with numbers to get help. We never knew, as a school, whether or not people were getting the help they needed,” he conveys. “Now we do. We actually get monthly reports and data analytics on our families. We call them warm handoffs; when we make a warm handoff to Care Solace, we get data and follow up to make sure that our students and their families are getting the care that they need.”
A Vision for the Future
Looking ahead, Dignan underscores the ongoing focus on providing career pathways for students while supporting students and families, especially those navigating higher education for the first time. The district aims to polish existing initiatives, making them more accessible and impactful for the diverse student population it serves. He declares, “The legacy of our school district will be the definition of how our kids do in the real world, whether it’s going into the military, jumping into a job, going to a four-year school, or picking up a skilled trade.”
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AT A GLANCE
Wayne-Westland Community Schools
What: A school district serving 9,200 students, with a strong focus on future success
Where: Wayne County, Michigan