Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School enrollment to rise

Martha's Vineyard Regional HIgh School, outside the Performing Arts Center. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Enrollment at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) will likely undergo slight, slow, but steady growth annually over the next five years, according to the most recent projections made by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC).

Superintendent of schools James Weiss presented NESDEC’s January 9 report at the MVRHS school committee’s meeting on Monday, February 6. Mr. Weiss said the projections indicate that over the next few years, enrollment in Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools will remain similar to what it is now, at around 2,100 students. While the high school may experience some growth, the elementary schools are expected to level out.

“In the 2005-2006 school year, the high school hit a high of 822 pupils, and that has gradually declined to where we are this year, at 669,” Mr. Weiss said. “We have been pretty steady over the last five years.”

NESDEC, a not-for-profit educational organization, provides enrollment projections as a service to its members. Mr Weiss said that NESDEC updates the Island schools’ enrollment projections annually using the Cohort Survival Model, which is modified with additional information provided by his office, including the number of live births to residents, housing starts, and the October 1 school census.

“Between grades eight and nine, we have seen in the past a significant number of students show up that we can’t really account for,” Mr. Weiss noted. “However, the Cohort Survival Model takes that into account. I would say these are pretty reliable projections.”

In other business, the school committee approved Mr. Weiss’s request to spend $15,000 from the high school’s excess and deficiency fund to hire a search firm to find a candidate to replace Dan Seklecki as Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools director of student support services. Mr. Seklecki had planned to retire at the end of January, but agreed to stay on through June while a search is continued, Mr. Weiss said.

School committee member Roxanne Ackermann of Aquinnah asked whether a committee made up of local members might do the search instead, to save money.

Mr. Weiss said an Island committee already had conducted a search several months ago that cost about $10,000, which was funded through the superintendent’s shared services budget. “We found six to eight candidates, none of them acceptable,” he said.

“It’s too important a job to just settle on someone,” said Susan Mercier, who served on the search committee. “We have to look further and cast a wider net.”

Ms. Ackerman questioned whether there might be a suitable candidate already in the school system.

“I think recent history will indicate to you that when we think there’s someone on the Island that might be a fit, we reach out to them,” Mr. Weiss said. “This is a hard job to fill, a key position, and we need to work very hard to find the right person.”

“I just don’t know if money can buy what you’re looking for — maybe if we gave Dan that $15,000, he might stay,” Ms. Ackerman suggested.

“How about $10,000 and a puppy?” Ms. Mercier joked.

Mr. Weiss said most of the $15,000 would be used for advertising and that he anticipated the search firm would net about $4,000.

In a report from the principal, Stephen Nixon read the names and offered congratulations to 24 students who recently won Boston Globe Scholastic Art Awards. Mr. Nixon said out of 14,000 entries, less than 5 percent received the prestigious top “Gold Key” honor, which was awarded to works by 9 MVRHS students.

Mr. Nixon also paid tribute to students who worked on the school’s literary magazine, Seabreezes, in 2011, and their teacher advisors, Janice Frame and Bill McCarthy. The National Council of Teachers of English’s program to recognize outstanding student literary magazines selected Seabreezes to receive a rank of excellent in 2011, from among a total of 391 schools that entered.

On the topic of personnel, Mr. Nixon welcomed Jessica Bertucci as the school’s new Spanish teacher. Mr. Weiss asked the school committee to accept, with regret, Laura Gliga’s letter of retirement as the high school’s special education administrator effective at the end of the school year.

The school committee also heard a presentation by MVRHS food services director Leslie Floyd, and her boss, district manager Gail Oliveira. They are employed by Chartwells, the food service management company contracted to provide meals at the high school and up-Island schools.

Ms. Floyd highlighted the many changes she has made since she was hired in 2010 to incorporate locally grown foods on the menu, educate students about nutrition, and offer the kinds of meals they like while meeting strict state and Federal nutritional guidelines.

The school committee meeting’s monthly “Student Spotlight” featured junior Douglas Andrade, who gave a slide presentation about his many volunteer activities. He said his goal is to start a fishing program for Island kids from families in need.