Martha’s Vineyard teachers launch school year with opening day rally

Associate principal Sean Mulvey teamed up with the school's mascot, the Tisbury Tiger (teacher Reuben Fitzgerald), to greet people in the Performing Arts Center lobby. — Photo by Janet Hefler

The murmur of excited voices echoing in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center Tuesday morning might have easily been mistaken for those of students as Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) administrators, teachers, and staff gathered for what was officially billed as an opening day convocation in anticipation of their return to work for the start of a new school year today, but it was more reminiscent of a high school pep rally.

Superintendent of schools James Weiss called on everyone to raise their hands and make their presence known as he named the five Island elementary schools and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS). In turn, school staff members raised their hands to cheers and applause.

Many in the audience got into the pep rally spirit with suitable attire. Tisbury School administrators and staff wore matching blue and gold sports jerseys and tee-shirts emblazoned with their school’s name. Despite the heat and humidity, grade 7/8 social studies teacher Reuben Fitzgerald gamely donned the school’s tiger mascot’s heavy, fur fabric costume and greeted folks with a few grrr’s. Some in the Oak Bluffs School crowd wore blazers to match their school’s colors.

In his remarks near the end of the 30-minute program, Mr. Weiss said he was inspired by an Op-Ed piece a friend sent him, “The Four Rules of Getting A’s,” published in the Hartford Courant on August 14 by Frank Harris, a journalism professor at Southern Connecticut State University.

“Basically, he’s talking about being on time, following directions, always giving 110 percent, and finding a way to overcome obstacles,” Mr. Weiss said. “And if you do those four things, you will do well in his class, and in our classes, as well. Those are also good goals for us, as we work with young people on the Island: be on time, give 110 percent, and make sure you can help kids overcome obstacles.”

Mr. Weiss told the audience he felt very fortunate to be standing before them. “This Island is an incredibly special place in which to live and work,” he said. “Our communities are extremely supportive, and our students are blessed to have caring, dedicated educators working with them every single day. And schools are well resourced with rich programs.

No, our little world is not perfect,” Mr. Weiss added, “but as I talk with my fellow superintendents at the superintendents’ association’s Cape Cod meetings, I know how great the Martha’s Vineyard public schools truly are. And that’s because this is a people business, and you are the great people that make it so. Thank you.”

Earlier in the program Mr. Weiss called Susan Mercier, the All-Island School Committee (AISC) chairman, to join him onstage. Having confessed her discomfort as a public speaker at last year’s gathering, Ms. Mercier nonetheless braved it again to deliver a message of support and encouragement to Island educators.

She suggested that they savor the moment, and think back upon the energy, excitement and anticipation of the morning’s new school year celebration in the weeks and months to come, when they are immersed in duties such as meetings, back to school nights, and parent conferences.

Ms. Mercier said she has been constantly amazed and proud of the dedicated professionals in all of the Island’s schools.

We live in a community that puts a very high value on education, and for that, I am thankful,” she said. “But what I am truly thankful for is all of you, a community of educators that work tirelessly to ensure that each of our children have the best education possible.”

Ms. Mercier also took the opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. Weiss. She said he became her mentor nine years ago, when she was elected to the Edgartown School Committee and he was starting his career with the Vineyard school system.

“He is a kind, gentle man who never ceases to amaze me with his professionalism, intelligence, and compassion,” Ms. Mercier said. “In June of 2015, Dr. Weiss will be retiring, with the Vineyard being his last stop in an incredible career in education.

So Jim, on behalf of myself, the Island community, educators, staff, students, and parents, I just want to thank you for all you’ve done,” she added. With a catch in her voice, she then turned to Mr. Weiss and told him, “You will be missed.”

The audience gave Mr. Weiss a standing ovation. With his eyes glistening, he bowed his head and raised a hand in appreciation.

The program also included brief remarks by Ena Thulin, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Teachers and Educators Association (MVRTEA), and Corinne Kurtz, the high school’s building representative. Mr. Weiss introduced new personnel at the high school, and Sam Hart, the director of ACE-MV (Adult Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard).

Let’s go to our school buildings and have a wonderful school year,” Mr. Weiss said in closing.

The public school system is the Island’s largest employer, with approximately 550 total full- and part-time employees, according to Mr. Weiss. Teachers represent approximately 275 of that total.