In the Chilmark School parking lot Thursday morning, a father clipped a blue bow into his daughter’s hair and took a picture with his phone. She waved goodbye and darted across the grass, pink and purple butterfly backpack bouncing in the air. Inside, head of school Susan Stevens stood among parents and grandparents, giving kids high fives. “Welcome back! Glad you’re here!” she said to students passing by.
Islandwide, about 2,280 students are enrolled in public schools this year. In Chilmark, Mrs. Stevens saw 65 students stream through the front doors, the largest enrollment she has seen at the Island’s smallest public school.
Only four children arrived by bus on Thursday, but Mrs. Stevens said that is normal for the first day of school, when most parents decide to drive their kids to school themselves.
George Berz, father of fourth grader Elliott Berz, was one who drove his son to school. Inside, after Elliott scampered off, Mr. Berz lingered a little with other parents and staff. “He’s a little nervous, I think. He’s going on the Alabama on Monday,” he told Mrs. Stevens, referring to the trip school children take on the classic schooner every year. “He’ll love it,” she said.
At 8:25 a.m., Mr. Berz rang the big school bell, signaling the start of a new year.
“It’s not just students who love ringing that bell. Parents love ringing it too.” Mrs. Stevens said.
One minute later children poured into the open lobby and formed a circle with their family members. Some parents took pictures, a few wiped away tears.
In the light-filled space, all was quiet before Mrs. Stevens spoke. “I just want to welcome everyone back to school. Look how big our circle is this morning! I hope everyone had a great summer and I’m really looking forward to the school year. It’s going to be a great year,” she said. The pledge of allegiance and songs followed. Then students flooded the halls, hung up backpacks and made their way inside classrooms.
A short time later Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss strolled into the school wearing a red tie with yellow school buses. “It’s a wonderful day!” he said to Mrs. Stevens.
Mr. Weiss said he visits each school on the first day to say hello. “So far everyone seems to be having a great time at all the schools. This is my third visit and I have two more to go before I’m back at my office in Tisbury. It’s going to be a spectacular year,” he said.
One young girl appeared in the hallway, headed to class a tad late.
“Hello!” Mr. Weiss said, waving hello. “Good morning!” she said. And skipped down the hall.