Oak Bluffs School principal Laury Binney announced suddenly over the weekend that he would resign his post, citing both personal and professional reasons.
Mr. Binney, who has been principal for 14 years, gave his resignation to Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss on Sunday. Mr. Weiss said yesterday that Mr. Binney intends to stay on the job until early fall, but the superintendent admitted that the news had somewhat blindsided him.
“Basically I’m going to take a deep breath, wait a few days, maybe a week, then I’ll be back from vacation and then I’ll make some decisions,” Mr. Weiss said. “This is all happening very quickly and I think I need to be somewhat deliberate in the decisions I make.”
In a telephone interview yesterday Mr. Binney bluntly cited “irreconcilable differences” with certain staff members at the school, although he did not elaborate on what those differences were. He did say: “I don’t usually back away from these kinds of things . . . but a series of things have happened over the last couple months.” He also said he had a recent medical diagnosis which is not life-threatening but was a factor in his decision. “Stress is not good for your body, and it’s not good for your mind,” said Mr. Binney. “It’s not something I’m hugely worried about, but it’s something that I have to pay attention to.”
Mr. Binney was hired as principal in 1996 during the school’s transition into its new, $13 million building off Tradewinds Road. At the time the school was experiencing a number of problems.
“When I got here, it was a mess,” he said. “There were a lot of problems with how behavior was dealt with. And we instituted a program that now is used throughout the Island, called responsive classroom. It took me a long time to get other schools invested, but I will say that it has made its way and filtered its way through to other school systems. The superintendent supports it, all the administrators on the Island support it, and it’s really the model that we use for how we treat each other and how we work together as a community.”
Mr. Binney said his methods are far more effective than the punitive techniques he remembers from his school days. “Sit in the corner for an hour, write a hundred times on the board,” he said. “Those things we did when we were kids, we don’t do that anymore.” He said his approach takes into account the personal experiences of each child. “We have a saying: in order to treat kids fairly, you treat them differently. And we know that every kid comes with different needs and different challenges,” he said.
He said several years ago a group of Island teachers were trained as leaders for the program, and went on to hold workshops for teachers across the Island. “It’s sort of spread its wings into the other schools in that fashion,” said Mr. Binney. “I feel good about that; that it’s become the standard, really, for how every school is treating their social curriculum.”
With a relatively high concentration of low-income and special needs students, the school also has faced academic challenges in recent years. After failing to meet certain standards under the annual Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), which measures student performance within the framework of school curriculum, the school has earned a label as an under-performing school.
Published once a year, MCAS scores have come to be known as both the benchmark and the bane of public schools; federal funding for school programs is partially tied to MCAS scores.
This year the Oak Bluffs School failed to make what are known as adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets in math and English for the third year in a row.
Yesterday Mr. Binney pointed out that the Oak Bluffs School was hardly alone in failing to make its AYP — many schools with similar demographics, including Edgartown, also did not make AYP. Oak Bluffs has improved in a number of areas, he said, adding that he is confident this year will mark even more improvement. “We got our [preliminary] reports just last week and we’ve exceeded, I think, what we did last year in terms of our aggregate. We’re all holding our breath to see what happens with the [low income and special education] subgroups,” he said.
Mr. Binney said he will stay on as principal until a replacement is found and trained, which he expects to be mid-September or early October. After that, he’s not quite sure, but he said there’s definitely a future for him as an educator. One possibility, he said, is a stint abroad with his wife, Marcy Klapper, a teacher at the West Tisbury School. “We worked in India for three years when our kids were young, and it was just such a wonderful experience at an international school. There’s a whole market out there for that so we may pursue that for next year,” said Mr. Binney. “I still have a lot left to give for kids and education.
“I feel proud of having really been a part of, I think, a significant transformation,” he said. “Oak Bluffs, back in the nineties, was the school everybody thought of as sort of at a lower level than anyone else . . . it’s changed a great deal.”
Mr. Weiss called Mr. Binney’s departure a huge loss. “He’s done an outstanding job at Oak Bluffs. He took a school that was moving into a new building and needed a fresh start, and gave it that fresh start. It’s been a really good place as a result,” he said.