Up-Island regional school committee looks ahead to goals, budget

The West Tisbury School looks new. — File photo by Janet Hefler

The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee started a new school year with a report from the building committee that a fast-paced summer exterior renovation project at West Tisbury School, costing $1.55 million, finished up on time.

At the meeting at West Tisbury School on Monday night, building committee chairman Kathy Logue said that other than a few minor punch list items, all that remains to be completed is inspection by the roofing manufacturer in order to get a warranty that covers labor and materials. She and West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt commended the general contractor, Building Systems Inc., and Chris Raye, vice president and manager of the Sandwich office.

Ms. Logue said the building committee opted to go slightly over budget in some areas, such as painting, which would reduce the school district’s budget for capital projects over the next couple of years. In order to do that, Ms. Logue said the committee tapped about $20,000 of $120,000 from funds reserved for rewiring work, which she said they now think will cost less because of wireless components.

Since regional school districts are required by the state to approve fiscal year 2013 (FY13) budgets in December, Mr. Weiss said he would like the school committee to discuss the UIRSD’s goals with him and his staff before the first budget meeting, scheduled on October 17.

The school committee agreed and set a budget workshop for 6:15 pm on October 5 at the West Tisbury School, open to the public. Committee chairman Dan Cabot recommended that the meeting include members of a task force organized by the West Tisbury Finance Committee last spring to review the UIRSD FY13 budget. The school committee voted to send invitations and draft minutes of all budget meetings to finance committees and selectmen in Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury.

In other business, Mr. Weiss said school business administrator Amy Tierney is working on the final details of a food service contract with Chartwell’s, the only company that put in a bid.

“Thanks to work done by the Farm to School people, cafeteria personnel, and Chartwell’s, we have outstanding components in our contract with them,” Mr. Weiss said. “I would remind the school committee and school community that [in the last few years] we have gone from the worst program on the Island to one of the best.”

In reports on the two up-Island schools, West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt described a new pilot enrichment program this year. It is targeted to provide either remediation or acceleration of the curriculum through an individualized program for every middle school student (in grades 6 through 8).

Based on interest surveys filled out by the students, their test results, and their teachers’ knowledge of them, every six weeks students will be assigned to one of 13 enrichment topics for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Assistant principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt said the topics were designed around specific skills and to meet students’ needs and passions.

To keep it balanced, students in need of remediation will not be assigned entirely to those types of enrichment periods for the entire school year, assistant superintendent Laurie Halt added.

In response to a question about cost from school committee Michael Marcus of West Tisbury, Mr. Halt said the program does not impact the school budget because the entire staff revised how they use their time in order to carve out money for it within the budget. The pilot enrichment program cost about $7,000 this year, Mr. Halt said, with $4,000 spent on supplies and $3,000 on summer training for teachers.

Mr. Marcus also questioned Mr. Halt about why the school committee had not been consulted about the change to multiage classes for all students in first and second grades, which affects his own children. Mr. Halt said he brought the recommendation to the school committee last spring as a way to meet the challenges of changing enrollment trends.

At Chilmark School, head of school Susan Stevens said 53 students are enrolled, including a new combined kindergarten-first grade class taught by Gretchen Snyder and assistant Kaitlyn Maciel.

Ms. Stevens said that Chilmark School incurred some damage from Hurricane Irene. An exterior door was blown off, and the school’s phone system central processing unit was destroyed. Ms. Stevens said the phone system would be replaced by Friday, Sept. 23, covered by insurance.

In other business, Mr. Weiss presented to the school committee two draft school polices for a first reading, regarding pediculosis (head lice) and student absences and excuses.

Mr. Marcus objected to a provision in the policy for dealing with head lice, which was drafted by school nurses Island-wide in accordance with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School nurses. The new policy would allow a child to be readmitted to school by a school nurse with evidence of treatment, even if some nits (head lice eggs) remain.

He said although he is not a healthcare professional, he considers himself an expert on the topic of head lice after all the research he did when his two children had them last year. Mr. Marcus provided a lengthy description of his family’s nightmare experience and said he went to great expense to combat the problem, including hiring head lice treatment specialists from off-Island to come to his home and pick the nits from his children’s hair. Given how hard it is to get rid of head lice, Mr. Marcus argued, children who have any nits should not be allowed in school.

Mr. Weiss suggested the committee vote to acknowledge the first reading of the policy, and that he would ask a school nurse to attend the next meeting to explain the thinking behind it. He said since he is not medically trained, he would prefer that a healthcare professional develop the policy’s language. Policies are accepted only after three readings.

The committee voted to acknowledge first readings of both policies, and also agreed to annually review a policy for Title 1 Parent Involvement.