A new year begins next Thursday morning in Island public schools, and most students across the Island will make their way back to familiar classrooms while some will find them for the first time.
Islandwide enrollment this year is expected to be 2,280 students, about the same as last year, Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said this week. The five elementary schools are expecting 1,409 students and the regional high school expects 681 students when doors open on Sept. 4. There are 188 sophomores this year, making it the largest class in the high school.
“We’re off to a good start for a great year. Our bus drivers are ready, cafeterias have been gleaning food, the buildings are in great shape, the roof at the Tisbury School and the roof at the Chilmark School are both finished. If you were in the high school now, you would know the floors look nice,” Mr. Weiss said.
The high school is expecting a freshmen class of 175. Freshmen start a day before the rest of the Island on Wednesday, Sept 3.
A handful of new teachers will join the school system this year, but the most significant changes are in leadership roles at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
New principal Gilbert Traverso was on the job this week, having moved to the Island from Hamden, Conn. “I’m really excited to be here. It’s been meeting central since I got here, but I still keep pinching myself that I’m here,” he said on Wednesday morning from his office.“It’s going to be a great year, we have a lot of new staff I’m looking forward to working with.”
Mr. Traverso will be joined by two assistant principals: Andrew Berry, a returning vice principal, and Elliott Bennett, a respected longtime science teacher who stepped into her new post as assistant principal this summer.
Also new to the staff is Nancy Dugan as special education director and Ty Hobbs, who will head vocational programs at the school. “The high school will see some differences this year because of all these significant changes at the administrative level,” Mr. Weiss said. “What happened last year was that a lot of staff realized that the job was just not for them, or they realized they couldn’t move to the Vineyard, or they had a family problem. It was more about the person in the role, not the job itself,” he said.
In addition to faculty changes, a handful of curriculum changes are planned for this year. The elementary schools will be teaching eighth graders a full year of algebra, a first, according to Mr. Weiss. At the elementary level, improvements are planned for the Spanish program. “The Spanish teachers are all working together to strengthen the program,” Mr. Weiss said. At the high school, the German program is being phased out and will no longer be offered to new students, and Brazilian Portuguese will be introduced as a new Romance language. Mr. Weiss said one person has been hired to teach both languages.
At the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury, 180 students, the maximum number the school can enroll, will begin classes next Thursday, director Robert Moore said. Mr. Moore said 23 students are new to the school this year, including a kindergarten class of 13. In a key campus expansion, two new science laboratory classrooms are planned to be finished a year from now.
Few faculty changes are planned at the charter school, Mr. Moore said. Robert Louzan will be the new administrator of special education, Claudia Ewing will become guidance administrator and Marie Larsen has been named assistant to the school director. “These are not big changes, we are just shifting things around. I think it’s going to be a really great year,” Mr. Moore said.
At the high school on Wednesday morning, the hallways were still dark and classroom doors were closed.
But the principal’s door was open.
“My door will always be open,” Mr. Traverso said, sitting at a desk dotted with school papers, a new box of tissues and calendar turned to September.
Mr. Traverso previously served as principal of Putnam Academy.
“I’m excited to be here,” he said, smiling. “I have to say, I’m taken aback by the amount of help I’ve been getting from everyone.”
He said dozens of strangers — some he isn’t even sure were employed by the school district — worked to help him find a place to live.
“There is such a great deal of hospitality on this Island and at this high school,” he said. “And I mean, when you venture off and move somewhere without family and friends, it’s unsettling, but then you realize it’s worth it when everyone is so welcoming. I’m really glad to be part of this community.”
He moved into an apartment on the Island on Monday; before that he had been commuting each day.
“I feel like I am trying to drink out of a giant waterfall,” he admitted. But his plan is to take it one day at a time. Starting with his office. Pointing to a long, cushioned couch and empty coffee table in front of his desk, Mr. Traverso said he plans to replace them with a conference table and a white board. “I want this to be more of a working office,” he said.
The few items he brought — “for long days and nights” — include a lamp, microwave, miniature refrigerator and coat rack. A Vineyard-purple regional high school football hat had been hung on the rack.
“What drove me to be a principal is I care a lot about kids,” Mr. Traverso said. “My mission here is to blend new ideas with the Island way. And every single decision we make this year will be about the kids, that’s number one. When the kids leave the high school, I want them to be college ready and career ready and that’s what I’ll work for every single day.”