Today about 1,422 schoolchildren will flood the hallways of the Island’s five elementary schools and more than 700 will enroll at the high school. An additional 180 students are enrolled at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury.
But when school bells ring this morning, kindergarten students won’t be the only ones with butterflies. The school district processed paperwork for 100 new staff members this summer, and many more returning employees took on new roles.
Last week the Island teaching community came together for a convocation event at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to kick off the new year. “I hope all had a restful and productive summer and [you] are ready to return to all the important work we do,” Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss told the crowd, which he said included a “huge number” of new and reassigned educators.
The high turnover rate in Island schools is a byproduct of an aging teaching force, for which increased retirements can be expected over the next several years, said Mr. Weiss. As a result, this year, “there are a lot of new people doing new things,” he said.
One of those new people is Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, former special education director who now serves as the West Tisbury principal. At the high school, Bob Drobneck will take over as director of the vocational program, a position vacated by Jeff Rothwell this summer. Each school hired new teaching assistants, and many other positions have been filled in diverse departments.
School begins nearly one week later than usual due to Rosh Hashanah, the holiday celebrating the Jewish New Year. “We try to avoid starting school on those holidays,” Mr. Weiss said.
While enrollment is comparable with last year’s at most of the elementary schools, this year’s freshman class at the high school is expected to surpass 185 students, the largest class in years. Freshman students were invited to the school on Wednesday to familiarize themselves with the building layout, and to meet each other, and faculty members. “It’s a quick inauguration for the kids to get used to the school,” said high school principal Stephen Nixon. “It’s all about making them feel comfortable for Monday.”
Many of the schools’ oldest members, the seniors, attended the freshman orientation, already proving their worth as role models.
“This is a great group of kids and we expect them to be successful in the future,” Mr. Nixon said about the senior class.
While teaching and learning at each school will proceed as usual for the most part, with some minor curricular changes at a few schools, the presence of the state’s assessment and evaluative systems for students and teachers will be felt.
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test results will be released to the public in mid-September, around the time that the results of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) program compliance review will be released. This year, the high school’s accreditation report will be released following an evaluation of the school last year. This year the school will undergo its own program compliance review, with a focus on civil rights issues, the special education department and the vocational department.
The school district has entered into the second phase of the state-mandated educator evaluation system. Over the course of the year, teachers will continue to familiarize themselves with the pilot evaluation system, and prepare to be evaluated against state standards in the coming years. Throughout the year, Dr. Weiss will be meeting with staff members from each school to discuss the new evaluation system. “Let’s work together to make a positive year for everyone,” he said to the assembled educators on Tuesday.
Incoming students at the Edgartown School may be somewhat distracted by the demolition process going on at the old school site next door. Construction on the new library building won’t begin until November, but that may also be a source of distraction, said Principal John Stevens. But it’s something “I think we can get used to,” he said. This year, eight eighth graders will be the beneficiaries of a pilot whole-year Algebra curriculum, the first of its kind on the Island.
The Chilmark school underwent a landscaping and drainage improvement project over the summer, and while the project is complete, students may be encouraged to avoid the newly-seeded grass areas around the school for the first few weeks.
The Oak Bluffs school is continuing to implement a new mathematics curriculum in kindergarten through sixth grade, called Envision. They are also introducing a new reading and writing curriculum developed by Lucy Calkins of Teacher’s College in New York.
Over at the central office, the new assistant superintendent, Dr. Matthew D’Andrea, will begin work just prior to Thanksgiving, Mr. Weiss said. “He will be a breath of fresh air, a young man in our office,” he said. “And I won’t be alone anymore.”
Finally, the district interviewed an off-Island candidate for the director of student support services position on Wednesday. While that search is completed, Ralph Friedman and Ed Orenstein will fill in part-time.
A school census is done annually on Oct. 1; following that precise school enrollment numbers will be available Islandwide.