School enrollment remains fairly flat this year, and the most major changes that will be seen in Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools are the faces of faculty members, when Island students return to school on Tuesday, Sept. 7, the day after Labor Day.
The first day of school marks another change, as students will return two days earlier than in previous years.
“In the old days, every year up to this one, the first two days after Labor Day, that Tuesday and Wednesday would be staff [only], and students would come back on Thursday,” said Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss yesterday. This year, in the interest of shaving some time off of the end of the school year in June, all students, from kindergarten through grade 12, will begin classes the day after Labor Day.
“There’s some confusion, Mr. Weiss admitted. “We’ve been talking about this since last October, but old habits die hard.”
School officials also are preparing for the fact that the upcoming hurricane, scheduled to hit the Island Friday night, may affect opening day school plans. If people are evacuated from their Island homes due to the storm, it may well delay opening day, because many Island schools will be used as storm shelters.
“The three down-Island towns and West Tisbury are used as shelters,” said Mr. Weiss. “So if there is a significant impact from the storm, it could disrupt us. At this point we’re just doing whatever we can as good citizens. And we have our phone trees all set, so if something has to happen, we’re all ready.” Mr. Weiss said school officials are in communication with emergency management directors, and school buildings will be closed today at noon to school staff members, who began work this week, in preparation for the storm. “We are ready. [But] hopefully school will open without difficulty on Sept. 7,” Mr. Weiss said.
This week, school staff and faculty members were busy preparing for opening day next week. And there are many new faces in the hallways. “We have a significant number of new staff across the Island, because we had some folks retire, and we had some folks who decided they wanted to do something different with their lives,” said Mr. Weiss. “Between teachers and assistants and administrators, we probably hired 50 people this summer.”
There’s also been a great deal of shifting around among the administration. Former high school assistant principal Carlin Hart is now principal at the Oak Bluffs school, replacing Laury Binney. Matt Malowski, a teacher at the high school and director of the alternative STAR program, will be interim assistant principal. High school history teacher Andrew Berry has also been appointed interim assistant principal. Donna Lowell-Bettencourt will move up from interim assistant principal at the West Tisbury school to interim principal, to replace Robert (Bob) Lane, who announced his retirement in May. The interim assistant principal position in West Tisbury will be filled by Sean Mulvey,
Former high school athletic director Mark McCarthy will resume his post this year, replacing Sandy Mincone. Mr. McCarthy formerly served as athletic director some two decades ago. His brother, Mike McCarthy, is guidance director at the high school.
According to Mr. Weiss, enrollment numbers in all the Island schools should remain largely the same as last year. “Enrollment is something we can estimate at this point, but until the first day comes we’re not quite sure. We expect to have about 2,200 kids,” he said. Kindergarten enrollment has increased over last year, but Mr. Weiss said the increase should not have a significant impact on overall enrollment. “The group that went out was a larger group, the eighth graders, for example, and the twelfth graders, so that overall it’s going to be pretty stable,” he said.
Unlike last year, the school district has not had to terminate any staff members due to budget cuts, but Mr. Weiss said budgets remain lean Islandwide. “I think we’re in a situation where we have very tight budgets, especially in Oak Bluffs,” he said. “In fact if you were to look at their budget, other than things that are obligations, which are like salary and benefits and heat and lights, there’s like nothing left. It’s very, very tight.”
The budget process for the coming year will begin at meetings of the All-Island School Committee this month, and individual towns will start to plan their budgets sometime in October, Mr. Weiss said.
There are no new programs in place for the coming school year, but Mr. Weiss said the school district developed a new vision statement over the summer. “For us, we want to emphasize three things: That we are about all students’ learning, whether you are developmentally delayed, whether you’re autistic, whether you’re an A.P. [or] honors student. All students have to learn at high levels. That’s the first thing,” Mr. Weiss said. “The second thing, we want to make sure that kids get the notion that they have to have a passion for this learning. It isn’t enough to come in every day and just basically go through the motions. They really need to learn that learning is important. And then the final thing is, we are in the people business. It’s all about the interpersonal relationships between the people — between students, and between students and staff — that really make this come together and work.”
Mr. Weiss said the new approach was a topic of conversation at yesterday’s opening day meeting and assembly for teachers. “We will talk about it all year,” he said. “Each building is going to find a way to reach out to those specific things. To find ways to encourage the passion and to make sure we are putting learning activities in place for all students. So that’s really the notion of what’s going to happen in each building.”
Mr. Weiss said that opening day was marked by several special appearances, including a young Nantucket man named Connor Gifford. “Connor is a young man with a developmental disability. He has Down Syndrome. And he wrote a book on U.S. History called America According to Connor Gifford,” he said. “He was unbelievably inspirational for our staff. He talked about his life, the fact that he wrote a book, and that history is his passion. And he was really delightful.”
At the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury, enrollment remains at 180 students, the maximum allowed by the state. The school reached the maximum two years ago, and currently has a waiting list of some 125 students.
“We didn’t build this summer for the first time in a long time,” said charter school director Bob Moore yesterday. But last year’s building addition proved successful, adding art classrooms, a new media center and extra work areas for students.
Unlike the other public schools, the charter school will have no turnover of teachers this year. “All of our teachers returned so we’re pleased about that,” said Mr. Moore.
Now entering its 15th year, the charter school is up for its third five-year evaluation by the state Department of Education, which begins in October. The administrators of the evaluations will observe classrooms, examine teaching strategies and hold parent and teacher focus groups to determine if the school is eligible for the five-year charter renewal. Mr. Moore said he expects positive results.
Mr. Moore said that while he’s always worried about the financial situation for schools in Massachusetts and across the country, the charter school has operated under a very conservative budget for the past 15 years. “We base our budget on the budget of the previous year,” he said. “We’ve been staying within our budget for 14 years, and we intend to do that this year.”
Like other Island schools, students at the charter school will begin classes on Sept. 7. Mr. Moore said that he has been paying attention to news about the storm, but thinks that everything should be up and running on schedule Tuesday morning. “My understanding, from what I hear right now, is the storm will be out of our area by Saturday afternoon,” he said.