Just six weeks before the start of a new school year, principals at both the West Tisbury School and Chilmark School have announced they are quitting their jobs.
Letters of resignation from Elaine Pace and Carlos Colley forced the Up Island Regional school committee into an unscheduled meeting Friday to deal with the doubleheader of departures.
"It's fair to say this was unexpected," said Kathy Logue, chairman of the regional school board.
The resignations take effect roughly one week before school starts.
Lacking time to conduct a full-blown search for replacements, the school district plans to hire interim principals to step in for the school year which begins Sept. 7.
Ms. Pace moved to the Island three years ago to take over as principal at West Tisbury.
Mr. Colley, principal at the Chilmark School, has also served three years, but has worked in Island schools for eight years.
Neither principal attended Friday's meeting. Ms. Pace is traveling in England, and Mr. Colley is in Australia, school officials told the Gazette yesterday.
Their three-year contracts expired June 30. They were in negotiations for a new contract, and it is understood that one of the possible offers made to the two principals were for shorter-term, one-year contracts.
Ms. Logue said the Vineyard schools superintendent's office is taking charge of the process to hire interim principals for the two schools, but the superintendent, Dr. Kriner Cash, could not be reached yesterday to comment on details.
School officials said Mr. Cash had traveled to Boston for the Democratic National Convention.
"We're looking to everyone in the community, the staff, the rest of the school system, to participate in this process . . . and see what we can do better the next time," said Ms. Logue.
Principal turnover has been a problem at the Chilmark School for the last decade. Mr. Colley's replacement will be the fifth principal at the school in ten years.
Ms. Logue was tight-lipped about reasons for the resignations of the two principals. It is understood that Mr. Colley has accepted a job in New York.
The imminent departure of the two comes after a year of intense political debate and financial pressures in the up-Island school district.
"It's been a tumultuous year all around, rough on everyone," said Ms. Logue. "And I think that's why I would like the focus to be on accentuating the positive and trying to treat this as an opportunity."
Against a backdrop of waning enrollment and cuts in state educational aid, the two schools in the up-Island district have spent more than a year engaged in political skirmishes on numerous fronts.
Last summer, West Tisbury School leaders were trimming back spending. By fall, up-Island school committee members were considering whether they could save money by combining principal duties for both schools into one job.
Mr. Colley earned a salary last year of $87,360. Ms. Pace's paycheck last year totaled $96,096.
School politics heated up in the winter. Up-Island school committee members went up against the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School when they started lobbying state legislators to revamp a formula governing reimbursement of public charter schools. At stake was about $200,000 in state funding, currently going to the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School.
By January, the West Tisbury finance committee was renewing serious efforts to break up the regional school district, arguing that the cost-sharing formula overburdened West Tisbury taxpayers.
That move failed to win voter support at the April annual town meeting in West Tisbury, but much of the fallout landed in Chilmark, where the school's enrollment had dipped to 46 and caused annual per pupil costs to surge above $20,000.
Finance committee members from West Tisbury were pressing Chilmark leaders to bear more of the costs in the district and to consider closing down their school altogether.
Not surprisingly, Chilmark leaders rejected any efforts to shut down their small school. They opted to form a school task force, charging them with investigating the reasons behind low enrollment and recommending ways to boost it.
Last month, results of a survey of up-Island parents conducted by the Chilmark School task force showed support for the school's small classes, the low student-to-teacher ratio and the strong feeling of community. But parents gave the grammar school low marks in the areas of communication, leadership and staff turnover.
Under consideration by the task force was a move to redraft Mr. Colley's job description to include teaching duties in addition to his administrative role.
Both Ms. Logue and Susan Parker, the sole Chilmark representative to the regional school committee who also serves as chairman of the task force, sought yesterday to put a positive face on the news of vacancies in the head offices of both schools in the district.
"We have a strong staff that works well together and strong community support," Mrs. Parker said of the Chilmark School.
Ms. Logue said the search for interim replacements will demand creativity. "There are many people on the Island who rent apartments and houses who may be aware of something available starting the first of September," she said. "We'll need cooperation on every level."