Over the weekend a young girl, about middle school-aged, wandered into the community room at co-housing in West Tisbury just before a yoga class was set to begin. She knew the yoga instructor. “What’s new?” he asked her. “Back to school,” the affable child replied with a smile.
It is the phrase that begins nearly every conversation this week. Labor Day points the way back to school, and even for those who are long past their years of formal education there is a palpable sense, more at this time of year than any other, of the turning of the calendar. Summer is over and lazy, salty beach picnics are replaced by peanut butter sandwiches, new apples and carrot sticks, staples of American lunch boxes everywhere. In a few days math, English and social studies textbooks will replace Harry Potter in backpacks around the Island — crisp and uncreased, like the school year ahead, ready to take on the wrinkles and smudges of fresh ideas and a fresh outlook.
And as public schools open this week — the first day is Thursday for most students — the mood is upbeat, the outlook auspicious. The Edgartown school has a new principal. A native son who has come home again, John Stevens grew up in Edgartown, attended the Edgartown School and graduated at the top of his class at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School more than three decades ago. He brings to the job wisdom and seasoning from many years of work in the south Florida public schools, and he is welcomed by the school community and beyond.
Mr. Stevens is not the only new face in Island schools. Laurie Halt steps in as the assistant to Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James Weiss, in place of Margaret Harris who has retired. And there are many new teachers as well in a number of positions from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Around the country many public schools are stressed by a critical shortage of qualified teachers, especially in inner city areas. By contrast the Vineyard is lucky to have good, safe public schools, funded in large part by seasonal property owners who send no children to the schools but whose property taxes help pay for the teachers, books and computers that contribute to the high quality of public education here.
It’s something to remember this week when the yellow buses start to roll, and all that remains of summer are footprints in the sand.