MCAS test results, budget concerns, professional development and student enrollment were all topics for discussion at the first all-Island school committee meeting of the new school year.
The meeting, held in the high school library conference room Monday evening, began with discussion of preliminary results from the spring 2008 MCAS exams. Full results were released Wednesday. Early scores signaled troubling news for the Oak Bluffs School. Because of low scores among its special education and low income students, the elementary school did not make its annual yearly progress (AYP), and the state has designated the school as in need of improvement. “At some point, every school is going to not make AYP,” assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction Laurie Halt told the committee. She was quick to reassure that low scores are not cause for alarm. “This is not about failing,” she said. “Our schools have not failed.”
School started this year on Sept. 4; Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said enrollment is mostly flat. “We have about 2,100 students this year, which is about where we were last year,” Mr. Weiss said. An official count of Island students will be released after Oct. 1. Rough numbers show the high school opened with about 726 students, Mr. Weiss said, down from last year. Vineyard elementary schools are reporting enrollment either at or slightly above last year’s counts.
Mr. Weiss also said across the Vineyard teachers are organizing into what he called professional learning communities, where groups of like-minded teachers discuss goals for students and methods for assessing learning and helping struggling students. The program aims to improve the quality of teaching and learning taking place in Island classrooms. The superintendent also introduced a revamped program to evaluate teachers. The program ties teacher supervision and observation to state licensing requirements and national teaching standards. Mr. Weiss will introduce the system during a professional development day for teachers on Oct. 22.
Mr. Weiss also spoke about initiatives to attract and retain teachers. “We don’t have a plan in place, but a number of things are in the works,” he said. He said he has spoken with organizers of the Bridge Housing affordable housing project in Tisbury about the need for short-term teacher housing. He also said he is in discussion with the Steamship Authority to facilitate travel on and off the Island for the roughly 12 Island teachers who live on the mainland and commute to work.
Mr. Weiss said he is projecting no increase in the superintendent’s budget for the coming fiscal year. “There will be no new programs, no new services,” he told the committee. Last year the superintendent’s budget increased 20 per cent, partly due to an expanded special needs program for elementary school children and negotiated teacher pay raises. The draft superintendent’s budget will be presented to the all-Island school committee at a meeting on Oct. 2.
The committee also:
• Heard a presentation from Oak Bluffs school principal Laury Binney and his wife, West Tisbury school reading teacher Marcy Klapper, on their travels last year to Brazil.
• Reviewed data from Vineyard Smiles, a two-year-old program between Island dentists and Vineyard schools to provide dental services at a reduced cost for elementary and high school students. In the program’s first year, it served 305 students. Last year, 412 students participated.
• Adopted a revised annual evaluation form for the superintendent.