Lisa Freedman started her career at the Westwood Public Schools 20 years ago. This fall, she takes over as director of the Integrated Preschool, replacing longtime director Aprile Albertelli, who retired at the end of the last school year. Freedman came to Westwood High School in 1999, and for the past two years, has been in charge of Special Education at both the Downey and Sheehan elementary schools.
Westwood’s Integrated Preschool brings students with disabilities together with those who are typically developing. Studies have shown that this inclusive approach to education at the early childhood levels can benefit the social-emotional learning for all the students in the classroom, regardless of their background and potential challenges. The Westwood program includes three classrooms of 15 students each, all in a fully integrated setting.
In her time in the Westwood Schools, Freedman worked on their kindergarten grant. In that oversight role, Freedman has been able to gain invaluable experience in the world of early education. The familiarity with the staff and practices in the early grades will be a huge asset in her new, expanded role.
"When the state began working on some new assessment measures for early childhood and trying to look at what skills students had as they were coming into public school systems," she explains, "I worked with our then preschool director, early childhood director and both our kindergarten and preschool teacher looking at assessing measures and thinking about early childhood learning through that lens."
That work will naturally lend itself to her new role as the preschool director. Abby Hanscom is the director of Student Services for the district and saw in Freedman the opportunity to bring together the many levels of early childhood in a more seamless way.
"We were able to think creatively about what connections we wanted to make in the school system and there was this lovely opportunity to connect Downey elementary school with the preschool as well as Deerfield," said Hanscom. "It was a wonderful fit and Lisa was willing to step up to the plate."
Freedman credits Albertelli and the existing faculty and staff for the work and dedication they’ve put into the Westwood Integrated Preschool program.
"I think they're really strong and committed," she said. "They all have a passion and love for early childhood and for watching kids grow and learn in that preschool time span. I feel lucky to be joining them."
Yet, even with the program's past successes, Freedman and Hanscom each see room for improvement — especially for greater collaboration among colleagues at the different grade levels.
"The kids from the integrated preschool are certainly well prepared to go to kindergarten but I have found working in the district for a long time that there's always learning that happens when teachers are given the time to get out of their own classrooms or school and be able to go see other colleagues in the district," said Freedman, pointing to opportunities for preschool teachers to better understand what is happening in kindergarten classrooms, and vice versa.
"They can see what their colleagues are working on and what it looks like when the kids move on and that is not dissimilar from things we do in terms of our professional growth for teachers in Westwood in general," Freedman said. "We see a benefit in them being able to see their colleagues teach."
"I hope to create a linkage between the preschool and the kindergarten teachers as colleagues,” said Hanscom. "That will be a new development for them because they will feel like they have partners in the kindergarten for the hand-off from preschool, which can only help everybody."