Low enrollment numbers coupled with strict state guidelines have forced the Martha's Vineyard Adult Learning Partnership to scrap its general education diploma (GED) classes which typically start up in September.
The decision leaves the Vineyard with no option for people needing preparation for the high school equivalency diploma - unless you're an inmate at the county jail.
With the Vineyard's adult education agency pulling the plug on its GED offerings, the Dukes County House of Correction in Edgartown is now the only place on the Island to enroll in a preparatory class for the test.
Jeanne Burke, the director of the Martha's Vineyard Adult Learning Partnership, said yesterday that the state department of education recommended eliminating the GED classes after a monitoring visit to the Island last March.
"There aren't enough people in the classes," Ms. Burke said. "We had no choice."
She said the state educational agency that funds operation of the Vineyard adult learning program requires that a minimum of seven students enroll in the classes for at least 32 weeks.
When state inspectors conducted a site visit last spring, they reviewed attendance logs for the program and observed only three students in the GED classes.
Since a state grant was awarded back in 1997, close to 200 people have earned their general education diploma through the adult learning partnership, which operates evening classes at the regional high school in Oak Bluffs.
The action to eliminate GED courses now shifts the focus entirely onto the English language classes, geared toward the immigrant community on the Island. The waiting list for those classes now tops 200 people, Ms. Burke said.
"Those slots are always filled," she added.
But for some educators the loss of a program that prepares Islanders to earn a general education diploma was a subject to mourn.
"It's a rough thing for us not to have that," said Michael McCarthy, director of guidance at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. "They made a lot of strides with the population on the Island that wasn't getting serviced."
Close to half of the students enrolled in the GED classes in the last few years have been Brazilian, said Ms. Burke.
"Safety nets have many strings, and this was one of the strings on this Island," said Amy Reece, one of two teachers running the GED classes at the adult learning partnership.
Ms. Reece challenged the findings of the state department of education, telling the Gazette yesterday that she taught as many as 15 students during the last academic year.
"Since I started six years ago, we've always had a rolling admission," she said, explaining that some students needed only a few months of class to prepare for the GED test.
Ms. Reece said she also worked with the educators at the county to make sure inmates enrolled in GED classes there were guided into her classes when they were released.
Now, there's no place to send people on the Island, who leave the jail and want to continue their school work toward reaching a GED.
"That's a problem," said Katy Upson, director of the county jail's education programs, currently serving three inmates studying for the high school equivalency exam.
Typically, about five inmates a year enroll in the GED classes at the jail in Edgartown or through the community corrections program offered at county facility at the airport.
Ms. Burke said yesterday that outreach efforts to build enrollment in the GED programs included visiting the jail and informing inmates of the evening classes at the high school.
"We put ads in the paper, flyers in libraries and at the laundromat, went to AA meetings and the Vineyard House," she said. "I went to the courthouse and spoke with probation officers."
Both Ms. Burke and Mr. McCarthy agreed it's possible that the GED programs may have hit a saturation point, or that the high school is doing a better job of keeping students in school who may have otherwise dropped out and opted for a GED.
An alternative program at the high school called the Rebecca Amos Institute enrolled 19 students this year, offering them a more individualized education in a separate building outside the structure of the regular high school. An after school program offers classes to another group of high school students who need the flexibility of signing up for single classes just to earn credits needed for graduation, for example.
"We've been able to catch some kids who in the past - if we left them in the regional high school - were at risk for dropping out," said Mr. McCarthy.
Still, Ms. Burke acknowledged yesterday that the learning partnership may need to come up with another model for meeting the needs of people who need a GED preparation class, whether they're high-school-aged or not.
"My hope is that the partners and advisory council can find more workable and flexible designs than what the DOE [department of education] requires to assist students in need of GED preparation," she said.
The partnership includes Martha's Vineyard Community Services, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the Oak Bluffs library, the Vineyard Haven public library and the Vineyard public schools.
State education officials did not return telephone calls from the Gazette yesterday seeking comment.
Jeff Agnoli, the examiner for the GED testing on the Vineyard and the former director of the adult learning partnership, said 12 people took and passed the exam last year.
Also a guidance counselor at the regional high school, Mr. Agnoli said the pool of people wanting a GED are also some of the most difficult to reach and retain for a class.
Ms. Burke noted that the state education officials praised the overall work of the adult learning partnership. "This high performing program is making a substantial contribution to improving the quality of the lives of the students," the state report issued in April stated.