Facilities planning, early intervention for attendance problems, junior varsity sports policies and the search for a new principal all occupied the regional high school district committee at its first meeting of the new school year.

At the meeting Monday night in the high school library, acting principal Peg Regan told the board about a new program to address problems with chronic absences and tardiness.

Last spring, the school hired Shawn Schofield, a former Vineyard probation officer, as school intervention coordinator. A state law adopted two years ago requires public schools to have a program in place to address chronic absence issues with students 16 and older. Under school policy, parents are now contacted when a student has three unexcused absences. A maximum of two unexcused absences per semester are allowed. After five, a hearing is arranged. With about 95 per cent daily attendance, the high school has a strong attendance rate, but Mrs. Regan said the problems arise in specific groups of students.

“In my experience, it’s a consistent group,” she said. “The same group year after year after year.”

In addition to Mr. Schofield, the program includes a student assistance team made up of adults, including teachers and coaches, who may have some understanding about why a student is not attending school. The team meets on Tuesday mornings and sets up hearings for chronically absent students.

“It’s very benign,” Mrs. Regan said. “It is helping families instead of penalizing them.”

In other business, a letter from athletic director Mark McCarthy requested permission to allow eighth grade boys to play on the junior varsity ice hockey team this year only. Last year, the JV team could not field enough players; Mr. McCarthy predicted the same problem for the coming season. According to the letter, Mr. McCarthy has received approval from state school athletic organizers, contingent on school committee approval. Committee member Robert Lionette opposed the idea, and said he had spoken against similar prior requests. “I’m very concerned about a 13-year-old playing on the ice with 18-year-olds, the age discrepancy is concerning,” he said. “At the very least, I would like to hear from the coach and athletic director.”

Committee member Colleen McAndrews said she thought if the rule applied to boys’ ice hockey, it should be applied to all sports at the high school.

Since the hockey season doesn’t begin until after Thanksgiving, committee members decided to invite both Mr. McCarthy and head coach Matt Mincone to next month’s meeting to further discuss the request.

Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Matthew D’Andrea reported on an array of facilities repair work that is either under way or under study. Last year high school principal Gilbert Traverso flagged the school committee on major building repair work that is long overdue at the regional school, including roof repairs and ventilation systems that need upgrading.

Mr. Traverso left late this summer to take another job, and Mrs. Regan, former longtime principal at the high school, was named interim for the year.

On Monday the committee also agreed to begin the search for a new principal as soon as possible by forming a committee and putting out advertisements for the job.

“If you’re thinking about bringing someone from a different place, it’s nice to start early and fast,” Mrs. Regan said. She suggested a visible process with plenty of community involvement.