A new principal has been recommended for Westwood Elementary School.
Erica Ward, a Port Clinton resident and former elementary principal in Bucyrus and Florida, was unanimously selected by a panel made up of Wellington parents, teachers, and administrators to take over for the departing Paul Holland.
Her two-year contract will pay $81,000 annually.
Among 36 applicants for the job, 25 were interviewed, 10 went before the panel, and two were selected for a final round of questions.
The new principal feels her experience with kindergarten through third grade literacy and a collaborative approach to administration is what set her apart from other candidates.
“K-3 literacy has been my primary area since I got into education,” Ward said. “As a consultant I did work K-12. My passion is primary, and that shows in any question that you ask me. It’s where my heart is. It’s what I’m going to bring to Westwood Elementary.”
“I don’t do anything without having a committee or a team,” she said. “Before we make any changes we’re going to have everyone’s input. Anytime you want to make any kind of change, whether it’s cultural or academic or with behavior, you have to get all grade levels to work together and have one target. You get all arrows to point in the same direction by having everyone talk to each other. I view my job not just as an instructional leader but as a servant to the teachers. How can I best support them? That is truly what I believe.”
Ward worked last school year as an educational consultant for the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center.
From 2015 to 2017, she served as principal at Bucyrus Elementary School after spending 12 years in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools as an assistant principal, kindergarten through third grade teacher, and instructional coach.
She received a bachelor’s degree from Heidelberg University in Tiffin and master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The Wellington board of education voted May 15 against renewing Holland’s contract, a decision met with fierce opposition from teachers, parents, and students.
District superintendent Ed Weber said that decision was based on a number of inadequate results in Westwood’s state testing and Ohio Report Card grades, including a June 25 report from the Ohio Department of Education. It revealed more than half of Westwood kindergartners along with 20 second-graders and 10 third-graders aren’t reading at their appropriate grade levels.
The report also gave Westwood an F grade in literacy for kindergarten through third grade for this past school year.
“The way that Ohio does the report cards is tricky,” Ward said. “You have to be very smart and strategic in what you’re reporting and how you’re reporting it. Across the board, if you’re consistent and efficient then you’re going to improve your grades. It’s about having one vision and knowing, as a building, how to support that vision.”
Weber said he and panel members were impressed following their talks with Ward.
“The entire process provided a time for all of us to talk about the real nitty-gritty of the school and what the Ohio Department of Education wants to see from us,” he said. “We talked about the campaign to keep the former principal and asked difficult questions. In the final round of questions, candidates had to present a State of the School update and their recommendations as an outsider. We had them share what sort of professional development books and materials they would select for staff members. Then we asked them to write a correspondence to families to introduce themselves.”
“The team was absolutely unanimous and enthusiastic about Erica Ward,” Weber said. “They wanted to hire her the first time they met her but we had to follow the process. We wanted everything Paul Holland had, but with some more of the skills to help Westwood improve academically.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.