Students won’t be the only ones with first-day jitters when schools across the Island open this week.
It will be the first day for many teachers and administrators too, following the school system’s largest hiring in recent memory. There are new faces in the principal positions of four of the elementary schools and about 30 new teachers across the Island — in addition to a number of new teaching assistants. There are new key administrators in the superintendent’s office and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School as well.
“If you look across the Island, we really have new people just about everywhere,” Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said. And it wasn’t always easy to fill the positions. “World languages — especially Spanish — special education and computers have been a real challenge for us this year. It’s left us with a lot of jobs to fill in those areas,” he said.
Five or six Spanish teacher positions needed to be filled, along with three computer teacher positions and five or six special education positions, Mr. Weiss said.
Tomorrow, regional high school ninth graders — the class of 2011 — will be welcomed into school, while the rest of the Island’s public school students will start Thursday. Teachers and faculty will gather at the regional high school this morning at 8 a.m. for their annual assembly.
New faces at the assembly will include Edgartown School principal John Stevens, an Edgartown native who comes from a large high school in Florida, and regional high school assistant principal Neal Weaver, an Ohio native who also comes from a large high school in Florida.
Retired school administrator Daniel McCarthy will lead the West Tisbury School until principal Michael Halt, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, returns from Iraq. Retired Edgartown School principal Edward J. Jerome had been filling in for Mr. Halt, but was limited by the terms of his retirement.
“You never know with the Marine Corps, but in my last discussions with [Mr. Halt] and his wife, he will be back in this country the third week of September and that’s excellent,” Mr. Weiss said.
Mr. Halt left the Island in January to train a unit of United States Navy Seabees — the construction battalions of the Navy — in California, before leaving for a tour of duty in Iraq. The Marine Corps estimated he would be gone 12 to 14 months.
“He’s back much, much, much sooner than we expected,” Mr. Weiss said.
Familiar faces in new capacities this fall include Laurie Halt — who is married to Mr. Halt — as the new assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. She leaves her position as a history teacher at the regional high school to take the job.
Also, the Oak Bluffs School interim principal will be assistant principal Carlin Hart, while principal Laury Binney takes a one-year sabbatical. The Oak Bluffs assistant principal will be Gina Patti, who will leave her post as a reading teacher at the school.
The Tisbury School has flip-flopped its principal and assistant principal, so that Richard Smith is now acting principal and Maureen DeLoach is assistant principal.
Although the school census will not be performed until Oct. 1, it appears that overall enrollment is continuing to decline.
“We don’t know for sure what things are going to look like until people arrive, but what it looks like is the elementary schools are going to stay steady and the high school is going to decline,” Mr. Weiss said.
Regional high school enrollment stands at 744 — 59 fewer students than last year, principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said.
“That’s the biggest drop we’ve had in 10 years,” Mrs. Regan said. “I think it’s a definite trend because both our junior and senior classes are hovering at 200 and our sophomore and freshman classes are around 190 and 170, respectively.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School will see a small boost in enrollment this year.
“Our enrollment’s up to about 169 — that’s an increase of six or seven students,” charter school director Robert M. Moore said. “We’re excited that our faculty is intact and stable and we’ll bring a wonderful curriculum and culture to the students who attend this year. We’re entering our 12th year, so we’re very excited about that,” he added.
There will be one new faculty member at the charter school this fall — Spanish teacher Victoria Dryfoos of West Tisbury — and a couple of new program initiatives.
“One is integrating technology with our classroom curriculum. We’ve hired a technology instructor who is Sidney Morris. And we’ve restructured our high school schedule to allow our students to do longer mentorships out in our community. We hope to get some half and full-day internships to engage our students in their areas of interest,” Mr. Moore said.
The Island’s six other public schools will continue an initiative begun last year to integrate nonfiction writing into every class — and begin a new initiative focused on improving mathematics education across all grade levels. As a first step this year, an honors algebra course will be offered to a select group of 20 or so eighth graders, who will come from every elementary school to attend class with Eve Heyman at the Oak Bluffs School.
In November at the regional high school, a pilot program will begin that will mirror the Rebecca Amos Institute — the alternative education program for 11th and 12th graders — except this program will be for ninth graders. The program is designed as a safety net to catch freshmen when they begin to struggle, rather than have them wait to enter the Rebecca Amos Institute two years later. The goal is for the students to stay in mainstream classes, rather than go on to Rebecca Amos.
“What’s nice about this program is it’s largely invisible. It’s not a pullout,” Mrs. Regan explained noting that the program was devised by the faculty, students, parents and community members who make up the school council. “It gives them a lot of support but they’re still with mainstream classes — they’re just in a team situation.”
The alternative program begins later this year to give the faculty time to identify the students who might benefit from it, rather than let middle school teachers choose the students they think would benefit.
“Some kids have a lot of problems in seventh and eighth grade and get to high school and are fine. Other kids are fine in middle school and they get to high school and they bomb,” Mrs. Regan said.
The regional high school will also have an in-school driver’s education class for the first time in more than 25 years. The class was created at the urging of Barbara and Thomas Furino, whose son David and classmate Kevin Johnson died in a car accident three years ago, when they were juniors at the high school.
This will also be the first year that the regional high school has security cameras. The cameras look similar to light fixtures and will be located on the interior of the building. Following some break-ins and thefts, the school committee approved the use of surveillance cameras last year — to be reviewed only after there is an incident. Otherwise, the recordings will be disposed of after 30 days.
The high school will celebrate Portuguese-speaking culture for the entire school year, weaving it into its classes on art, music, foreign language, English and culinary.
“One of our teachers, Paul Brissette, spent the summer down in Brazil,” Mrs. Regan said. “He’s been here a long time and he’s seen the effects of Brazilian culture on the Island in the last 10 years and he was interested in making it a theme for this year.”
While the high school continues two programs started in the last two years to improve school culture — the Natural Helpers peer outreach program and the race culture retreat — the school will also begin a new mentor program. The program entails matching a faculty member with a group of 10 or fewer students for the duration of their high school career. The groups will meet for half an hour once a month this year, and more frequently in the future.
“We’re very excited to have the new freshmen class come in — 2011, my goodness. They seem to graduate faster and faster every year,” Mrs. Regan said.
The new leaders of the school — the 12th graders — should set a good tone for the year and a good example for the other students, she said.
“The senior class — the class of 2008 — is a great class,” she said. “They’re really a lovely group of kids and have done an awful lot for the school.”