The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School has received the largest private donation ever made to a Vineyard school. Taking the form of a matching grant, the gift will double all money up to $100,000 raised by the school before February 2008. Charter school director of development Paul Karasik said the $200,000 is needed to pay for enlarged classrooms and a modest addition, which will include a new art room and a second bathroom facility at the public school. The donors, a couple who would prefer to remain anonymous, have a background in school support, having given to a school in Illinois, where they say the matching grant structure worked well, yielding tangible results. Speaking by telephone this week, one of the donors said maintaining Vineyard character was also a prime motivation. “We went to the [charter] school and it was just like a red light going off,” the donor said. “You can feel the imprint of parental involvement. It’s a terrific part of the community, and we want to help protect this. We appreciated the delicate nature of the Vineyard and would hate to have it spoiled by becoming another Boca Raton.”
The charter school holds fundraising drives annually, though previously not on so grand a scale. “This is certainly the most ambitious,” said Mr. Karasik, sitting in the school’s bustling hallway. “But as a charter school, the state give us no money for land purchase or bricks and mortar costs, so we have to raise our own funds.”
The school has expanded slowly and from humble structural beginnings 15 years ago. “The first year we just had a narrow strip of hall and some trailers. Gradually these were replaced with classrooms,” Mr. Karasik said.
But the school still direly needs added room. Space restrictions mean that daily morning school meetings take place in the main hallway. The arts are a key part of the curriculum at the charter school, where each student has an individual learning portfolio and is allowed to choose some study options. Currently though, the arts teacher works using an “art cart” and moves from classroom to classroom. “We need a real art room — it’s essential for a projects-based school,” Mr. Karasik said, adding: “The deepest learning occurs through doing and making.”
The school also plans to improve several classrooms and to build a small space for one-on-one instruction. Most important though, Mr. Karasik said, is a plan to add another bathroom. The school currently has a single set of bathroom facilities, and the youngest children, whose classrooms are located in the rear of the school, must walk a long distance to reach the facilities.
Mr. Karasik, who lives in West Tisbury, works part time at the school; he also teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and is a highly successful comic book artist on the side. A member of the school’s founding group, Mr. Karasik has no fundraising background. Nevertheless, he feels comfortable in the role. “It’s not part of my nature, but I believe in this school and its mission so I can speak honestly,” he said.
Part of the space issue is a result of the school’s continuing success. At a time when enrollment is down overall on the Island, charter school numbers are at an all-time high. “We have a waiting list of over 100 students. That’s the good news. The bad news is we’re bursting at the seams and we must build this new addition,” Mr. Karasik said.
Later he went to check the school’s mail and called the Gazette with an update. “There was another $3,000 in the post box. From parents and old friends of the school,” he said. That means $20,000 down and $80,000 to go. “We’re really excited about this,” Mr. Karasik said.