Woodward Center prepares for the future


Change is coming to the Woodward Children’s Center.

It’s been the place to educate children with exceptional needs since the early 1950s, but the time has come for the West Merrick Road school to move into the 21st century. And it will all come down to SWOT.

That is, a focus on strength, weakness, opportunity and threats — the very things Woodward board president Marcia Caton says could impact the school’s future in both good and bad ways.

Planning for this new SWOT approach starts in January, Caton said, beginning with an assessment on what the school already is doing well at, and what might be improved. It’s a chance to determine the best way for students to thrive through strength and weakness, where threats are anything outside the school that might affect Woodward’s students. 

“With the strategic plan, we will have members from the board, members from the Woodward community, the staff, teachers, and of course the executive team, discussing what we’re going to do to change and improve,” Caton said. “We are going to look and see what we do best and what could change. The reason that we do this is to see how we can leverage it in the 21st century, because education is changing after Covid.”

One thing Woodward knows it needs to focus on right away is an effort to attract students from all around Long Island, not just Nassau County. There is also a push to explore incorporating more technology into the curriculum while offering more remote education options for some students who could benefit from such an approach.

“We’re going to look both locally and nationwide to see what the new trends in education for students are who are challenged emotionally,” Caton said. 

Woodward has long been a neighborhood fixture when it comes to special education services and support for children and their families dealing disabling social, emotional and behavioral disorders. Its mission is to develop social and emotional skills needed to overcome life’s obstacles while also providing specialized and personalized education.

“We serve children with emotional challenges from kindergarten to age 21,” Greg Ingino, Woodward’s executive director who started at the school as a special education teacher more than 40 years ago.

“We also serve children on the autistic spectrum, and we’re only one of very few accredited trauma schools in the New York area.”

Woodward was founded in 1951 by Freeport’s Gertrude Berman, who built a school initially named after her. It was later rebranded to honor Dr. Luther Woodward, a well-known specialist with the state mental health department, who had been supportive of Berman’s early attempts to launch the institution.

Students at Woodward get a typical academic education with the chance to pursue a Regent’s diploma. The school also offers a vocational program.

There are also several special area teachers, mental health counselors, and consulting psychologists at the school. Their staff additionally includes social workers and therapists who specialize in subjects ranging from music to dance.

Whatever changes are ultimately decided, paying for all of it will need a little help from lawmakers like state Sen. Kevin Thomas. The legislator visited Woodward for the first time last month to meet with educators and administrators.

“We’re a very unique program, because we have not only the academics, but the clinical component as well,” Ingino said. “We’re very successful in working with the students that we serve. (Thomas) was extremely impressed with the diversification of the program, and the kids made posters welcoming him to the school.”

The center’s plan is to create a more unified voice come January so it can better develop these new programs for the coming year.

“With whatever decision we come up with regarding goals, we’re going to have periodic reviews,” Caton said. “So, it will be constantly managed and improved upon.”