There was good news to celebrate in Vineyard public schools last week with the release of the scores from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam administered annually among elementary and high school students. Student proficiency levels are good to excellent in math and English nearly across the board, and six out of seven Island schools received top rankings under a newly-devised system this year that ranks schools on a one-to-five scale. There is still plenty of headroom left for improvement as Vineyard schools work to meet state and federal mandates to reach 100 per cent proficiency in core subjects for learning by the year 2017. But the schools appear well positioned to reach for that highest standard in educational excellence.
Extra laurels went to the West Tisbury School, the only Island school to receive a commendation from Gov. Deval Patrick for its high scores.
But the real standout in the MCAS story this year is the Oak Bluffs School, which showed sharp improvement in test scores across the board. Just two years ago the school was marked as a trouble spot on the public education roster as it struggled to meet state-mandated goals for progress in student learning. Now the school is experiencing a dramatic turnaround, and credit for this remarkable success goes to principal Richard Smith. Tapped by Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss two years ago to take over the Oak Bluffs School, Mr. Smith moved from the Tisbury School where he had been the much-loved principal. In remarks to the Gazette after the release of MCAS scores last week, Mr. Smith characteristically refused to take credit for instituting, among other things, new methods of teaching. “The talent of the staff was always here . . . they needed a focus and clear direction. The teachers and students made this big turnaround,” he said.
The Oak Bluffs School and the Vineyard are lucky to have a principal like Richard Smith, and Mr. Weiss, too, deserves praise for his vision and leadership. The superintendent saw where Mr. Smith’s skills were critically needed, and rather than launch a lengthy public process, he used his executive powers to relocate the principal, a decision that drew darts at the time from some Tisbury parents, school committee members and educators.
It’s a small reminder that the Vineyard, with its disparate town governments and public schools, is one Island.
We thank Richard Smith for being in our midst. We need more leaders like him.