Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Committee begins new year

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) school committee launched into the business of a new school year Monday night with a brisk-paced, hour-long meeting.

In an overview of the year ahead, superintendent of schools James Weiss highlighted a few issues for the school committee’s attention, including health insurance, time spent in school, combined services, and teacher evaluation.

Although contract negotiations were completed last year with the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools’ (MVPS) five bargaining units, Mr. Weiss said negotiations might have to be reopened due to recent healthcare reform laws passed in Massachusetts.

“I think it will be a challenge,” Mr. Weiss said. “Right now the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, which is what we all get our healthcare from, is working hard to modify their plans so that we can then negotiate with our various bargaining units and move forward.”

In follow-up to a discussion last spring, Mr. Weiss said he would like to explore the issue of providing students with more time in school.

“Do we lengthen the school day or year, or is that not the way we want to do it?” he asked the committee. “Do we want to use the time we have in a better fashion?”

With continuing economic concerns and increasing pressures on schools to provide services, Mr. Weiss said, “I also think we’ll need to look at ways to coöperate even more than we have in the past — I’m not using the ‘r’ word.”

As an example, Mr. Weiss said Edgartown School decided to fold its transportation system in with that of MVPS.

“There is a savings, there is a cooperative effort here, and that’s the kind of thing I’d like to see more of as we go forward this year,” Mr. Weiss said. “It doesn’t mean you have to regionalize anything; we just have to be able to work together.”

Mr. Weiss said this year the MVPS would also evaluate its Professional Growth System, a teacher supervision and evaluation system that focuses on improved instruction and connects what teachers do with student outcomes. The state has mandated recent changes in how school systems evaluate teachers, schools, and superintendents, based on student learning, he explained. “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has stepped up and asked us to be part of it, because we are one of the Race to the Top fund recipients,” Mr. Weiss said.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded Massachusetts $250 million in August 2010 under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, designed to spur improvements in public education. MVPS will receive $118,129 over the next four years from those funds, including $2,940 for Edgartown, $31,788 for Oak Bluffs, $37,835 for Tisbury, $40,970 for MVRHS, and $4,596 for the Up-Island Regional School District.

High school opening goes well

Also in his report, Mr. Weiss described the high school’s opening last week as “dynamic and fantastic.” He said he greeted students on their arrival at school the first two days and found that overall, “The kids are happy to be here.”

Principal Stephen Nixon shared a similar view in his report. Freshmen day on September 7 was one of the highlights, he added, with a great group of kids who were “extremely well-behaved.”

“We opened with 179 new freshmen, which is more than we anticipated, so our numbers are fairly steady,” Mr. Nixon said.

He thanked Greg Hines and the school’s other custodians for the great work they did in getting the building ready, which included a lot of painting.

Mr. Nixon said the high school has 12 new personnel this year, partially due to the need for more science teachers because so many students signed up for advanced courses. He credited World Language Department head Justine DeOliveira for doing “yeoman’s work” over the summer to replace four of the department’s seven language teachers, who left. The school committee voted to accept with regret long-time teacher Jim Powell’s letter of retirement, effective September 14.

At Mr. Nixon’s request, the school committee approved three in-service days, December 14, February 8, and April 25, for teachers to work on tasks associated with the high school’s three-year accreditation process through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges that began last year. Students will attend school until 11 am on those dates.

Under the heading of student acknowledgement, Mr. Nixon shared a letter from Hamilton College regarding the academic achievement of MVRHS graduate Samantha Rabin, which commended the high school for its quality of college preparation. Mr. Nixon also mentioned that writings by MVRHS graduates Ben Williams and Nicole Perry are included in a new writing textbook.

New policies to consider

In other business, Mr. Weiss provided the school committee with copies of draft school policies regarding do not resuscitate (DNR) orders for children with terminal illnesses, student absences and excuses, and head lice. The draft policies are available for review at

Mr. Weiss said school nurses Island-wide helped draft the DNR and head lice policies. MVRHS nurse Linda Leonard said both have strong recommendations from the Department of Public Health and are based on similar policies used by other schools in Massachusetts.

As the DNR policy explains, children with terminal illnesses may attend school, and as their health declines, some families decide to request a DNR order from a healthcare provider. A DNR order directs that their child not be resuscitated in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest. The new school policy specifies what would be required, such as documents and healthcare plans.

The draft policy for student absences and excuses, based on state law, would excuse students temporarily from school for four reasons: illness or quarantine; bereavement or serious illness in the family; weather so inclement as to endanger the health of a child; and for observance of major religious holidays.

The new policy also requires that parents provide an explanation in writing or by email for the absence and tardiness of a child, and in advance, if possible. “In my perspective, that sends a clear message that school is important,” Mr. Weiss said.

The third draft school policy addresses pediculosis, more commonly known as head lice, which is a nuisance but not a health risk. The school policy outlines a five-step process to deal with students with untreated head lice, with responsibility placed on school nurses.

“It’s a very time-consuming issue for elementary schools — they’re inundated with this,” Ms. Leonard said.

The parasites are easily transmitted from student to student. School committee member Colleen McAndrews pointed out that high school students who go on school ski trips are required to wear helmets, which have been a major source of transmission of head lice in the past. She suggested that the new policy include a requirement that chaperones on such trips be provided with an insecticide spray for headgear. Mr. Weiss said he would try to incorporate that into the policy.

The school committee approved first readings of the policies, which will undergo three readings in each school district and at the high school.

Priscilla Sylvia, elected last spring as the committee’s chairman this year, kept the proceedings moving with a goal to get everyone home in time to watch the Patriot’s football game. The meeting adjourned at 7:55 pm.