On Monday familiar yellow buses will roll over Island roads, stopping along the way to collect their precious cargo: school-age children from kindergarten through high school.
And another Vineyard school year begins.
It’s a late start this year for Island schools, which postponed the usual opening day just after Labor Day to accommodate the Jewish new year holiday which fell mid-week. It is also a time of internal change for Island schools, where a large number of teachers have reached or will soon reach retirement age. This year alone that will translate to about a hundred new positions in the public school system. Among them are a new principal in West Tisbury, Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, and a new assistant superintendent, Matthew D’Andrea. As a longtime teacher and administrator in the school system, Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt is a familiar face, while Mr. D’Andrea is a newcomer who hails from the Marion and Mattapoisett area who begins work later this fall.
The retirees are baby boomers, many of whom came to the Vineyard in the 1970s as student teachers and wound up staying, marrying and raising families on the Island as they established their careers in public school primary and secondary education.
Their contributions have been varied and across the board, from the enrichment subjects of music, art and drama to the more traditional disciplines of language arts, math and science.
Now with so many teachers retiring, school leaders face the significant challenge of not just replacing them, one classroom at a time, but of integrating a new generation of educators into the warp and weft of a system richly woven by teachers long dedicated not just to their profession, but also to their community.
At the elementary school level that has meant blue ribbon schools and consistently strong test scores in core subject matters. At the high school level it has meant a low dropout rate and high achievements among graduating seniors, many bound for higher education or work in the trades.
It’s hard not to feel a tinge of apprehension when things change, but we look forward to seeing how a new wave of bright young teachers can build on the high standards that have already been set.