High school committee approves changes to student handbook


With the end of the school year near, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) District school committee Monday tackled a chock-full agenda. Changes regarding student discipline and attendance mandated by a new state law the high school must incorporporate into the student handbook were one of the lengthier topics of discussion.

Assistant principal Andrew Berry explained that the new law requires that schools notify parents if a child is absent from school and they have not received notification of the absence from a parent within three days. In addition, public schools will be required to meet with parents of a student with five or more unexcused absences in a year to develop an action plan to improve his or her attendance.

The new law also requires school districts to provide alternative educational services for students who are suspended or expelled from school, and pay for the associated costs. Formerly, the high school maintained a list of alternative educational services to recommend in cases of long-term suspensions or expulsions, but it was not required to provide them or fund them. Now it is.

Mr. Berry estimated that MVRHS currently has about five students suspended long-term. School committee member Janet Packer of Tisbury asked how the extra cost would be budgeted. Given the small number, superintendent of schools James Weiss said he and the high school administrators think the work could be handled by the established staff, perhaps with the aid of online programs.

Mr. Berry explained proposed language that would make the Student Handbook consistent with the new laws. He said school administrators also recommended that the handbook include the new laws verbatim, and that school policies be referenced but not included in their entirety, to reduce the handbook’s bulk. Instead, school policies would be posted online, with hard copies available in the assistant principal’s office, guidance department, and library.

The school committee voted unanimously to approve adding the new laws to the Student Handbook, and to remove the school policies and make them available online and in hard copies.

Later in the meeting, the committee also voted to approve third readings of revised draft public schools policies on student conduct and discipline, and student absences and excuses. Final approval rests with the All-Island School Committee.

Successful year for college program

Under public comment, former MVRHS principal Margaret “Peg” Regan thanked the school committee and high school staff for their support of a program based at the high school through which more than 20 Martha’s Vineyard residents completed courses and earned credits from Cape Cod Community College (CCCC) this school year. Tom Hallahan of Oak Bluffs, the college’s Outreach Coordinator for Martha’s Vineyard, added his thanks as well.

Ms. Regan, who teaches English for the program, praised superintendent of schools James Weiss and CCCC president John Cox for developing the program. As its first advisor, Mr. Hallahan said he has worked with about 75 people this year, who range in age from 19 to 56.

In addition to college-age students and older adults who have benefitted from local college classes, he added, “We’ve been working with Mike McCarthy in the guidance department so that high school kids can take Composition 1 and have it count as one semester of their fourth year of English.”

Since the CCCC credits are transferrable, Mr. Hallahan said, “There’s nothing better than leaving the high school with 9 or 12 college credits that you can take wherever you go.”

He said four classes will be offered next fall and encouraged the Island community to contact him at 508-360-0891 for more information.

Mr. Weiss added that the college program is a successful collaboration between the high school, CCCC, and also Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH). CCCC began offering the courses in 2013, in collaboration with MVH and Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, as part of a new local transition program through which licensed practical nurses could advance their education to become registered nurses.

NEASC report follow-up

Ms. Regan also took the opportunity to discuss a 134-page report on the high school by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

“As a NEASC chair for 10 years and a member of NEASC for 25 years, I really want to stress how wonderful and important this document is,” she said. Having served as a community representative on one of the high school’s NEASC committees, however, Ms. Regan also voiced strong objections to some of the report’s content.

“I’ve written ten of these, and I want to say this really is not reflective of the high school that you guys run,” Ms. Regan said. “This report is just so small-minded, really, and I’m not sure whether it’s the writer who did it, or what.  I think the two-year self-study by the teachers and the staff was very adequate, but somehow the visit turned into something that really is not reflective of this school.”

Every 10 years the high school seeks renewed accreditation by NEASC in order to be eligible to award diplomas. The accreditation program involves a three-fold process, which started in 2010. It includes a self-study conducted by the local professional staff, an on-site evaluation by a NEASC visiting committee, and a follow-up program carried out by the school to implement the findings of its self-study and the recommendations of the NEASC visiting committee and Committee on Public Secondary Schools (CPSS).

MVRHS received approval for continued accreditation in December. With release of the NEASC’s full report in January, CPSS director Janet Allison included a cover letter to Principal Steve Nixon that highlighted 10 of the report’s 48 recommendations for improvements. The report also includes 66 commendations in praise of the high school’s programs and services. The CPSS requested that high school officials take action on three specific recommendations first and submit a special progress report by September 1, 2014.

“Basically, if you create the climate and create the opportunity for teachers to work together with the school administration and the administration of the superintendent’s office, if that changes, all of those 48 recommendations will be taken care of,” Ms. Regan said. “It’s not a checklist.”

Ms. Regan said she expressed her concerns in a phone conversation with Ms. Allison, who said she would come to the high school and help interim principal Matt D’Andrea and Mr. Weiss get the report written by September 1.

“I think you guys are doing a great job,” she told school administrators, adding, “It’s fixable.”

School committee chairman Colleen McAndrews said it will be important for the school committee to be updated regularly on changes and responses to what is in the NEASC report. “We will ask the principal to give us quarterly reports, starting in September, to keep us in the loop,” she said.

Other business

In other business, the school committee voted to approve a request from the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) regarding its representation on the committee, which will require a change in the high school’s articles of incorporation, approved by voters at town meetings Island-wide.

At Ms. McAndrews suggestion, the committee agreed to revisit two agenda items at its next meeting, in order to give everyone more time for questions and discussion. Those included a possible change in figuring town assessments by using a three-year enrollment average, and an informal memorandum of agreement proposed by the UIRSD regarding insurance deductibles when non-member towns use its buses.

The school committee’s last meeting of the school year will be held at 7 pm on June 23, primarily to wrap up year-end financial matters.