School Council releases MVRHS School Improvement Plan

Goals include putting a greater focus on school culture and climate, developing a STEAM curriculum, and addressing long-term facility needs.

Advanced Placement testing is conducted at the High School for two weeks every May. – MV Times file photo

At a meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) committee last week, interim Principal Margaret “Peg” Regan released a nine-page “School Improvement Plan” for 2016-17. Target areas include school culture and climate, instructional leadership, literacy, and school facilities.

The school council, chaired by psychologist Rufus Peebles and Ms. Regan, and comprised of six parents, four teachers, two students, and one community representative, authored the plan.

“It outlines school goals for next year, moving forward,” Ms. Regan said.

The first goal focused on improving school culture and climate through monthly gatherings at the high school to “create ongoing avenues for the school community to participate in school culture and success,” such as the monthly “coffee with the principal” events held this year.

“We’ve done a lot of work over the past couple of years on assessing and surveying teachers on school culture, and we’ve got a ton of data that will be very useful to the school and the faculty,” Ms. Regan said. “Continuing the roundtable discussions is going to be critical with Sara [incoming principal Sara Dingledy] going forward, which I think she is perfectly happy to do.”

Under instructional leadership, the school is working on creating one common syllabus for each course taught, “for consistent expectations, alignment of curriculum, and standards-based assessments.”

“We looked at instructional leadership and learning; looking at how we implement rigor in our classrooms, what that looks like, how we define it,” Ms. Regan said. “One of the things that we really feel strongly about, that we’ve started but haven’t really mastered, is the idea of a common assessment in all common courses.”

Classroom visits by the administration, peer discussions, developing a survey for students to provide input about the content of their courses, and offering more professional development opportunities for staff to “improve instructional practices and assessment of students” are other instructional leadership initiatives in the works.

Teachers and school administrators are also looking to rework the freshman skills program, an introductory course that freshmen take to introduce them to the high school learning environment.

“It’s been a nice course, but it hasn’t really helped the freshmen coming in to really access their education at the maximum level,” Ms. Regan said. “We have a number of teachers really interested in redesigning that whole program for next year’s freshmen.”

Reading a focus

Reading and content guides for ninth and tenth grade science teachers, history teachers, and “to some extent” math teachers, will be rewritten with new objectives.

“Most of us are not reading teachers at the high school level, and so we assign a lot of reading in the content area, but we don’t really show students how to read big textbooks,” Ms. Regan said. “Everyone just sort of reads the same way. You sit down and, like a novel, you open page one and you finish at page 300. There are so many other ways of reading and accessing text that we’re not teaching.”

All ninth graders will take a reading test. Ms. Regan said the test results will help teachers see where they need to readjust the curriculum.

“We are also working to make sure that we are using reading and writing interventions with students — going and finding students who want help and offering them that help in the regular ed as well as the special ed,” Ms. Regan said.

Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math — STEAM — will become a new curriculum focus for the school. Probably starting with next year’s freshman class, high school students will be able to pursue a STEAM pathway over the course of their four years of study.

“What the program of studies next year will have is an icon that says if you want a STEAM/STEM certificate at the end of your four years, these are the courses that you should take,” Ms. Regan said. At graduation, the student’s graduate certificate will have a STEAM insignia on it. That model will also be looked at in the elementary schools, Ms. Regan said.

“It’s a very important initiative, and it’s taken a lot of work,” she said. “I know the school district is also looking at the whole vertical for the students, so we can get K-12 involved.”

The school administration has enlisted the help of the Boston Museum of Science and Massachusetts Institute of Technology as consultants to help implement the STEAM curriculum.

Facility needs

The final strategy listed in the plan addresses the high school’s facility needs. Goals include “continue to hold hearings on the state of the high school for the public” and “develop and implement a five-year capital plan; to compare annualized costs of renovations versus bonds/state MSBA funding; and secure appropriate funding to complete the capital planning proposals relating to site needs assessment.”

On Thursday, April 12, Chris Blessen, a consultant from the engineering firm school leaders hired to address the facility studies, will give a final report to the school committee.

“He will bring sort of a schemata for us — here’s what it will look like if you do this — and he’ll have three different plans for us,” Ms. Regan said. “One that sort of addresses all the studies and the basic stuff, one that is sort of intermediate and also gets at some of the CTE and maybe the superintendent’s office, and then the Taj Mahal example.”

High school administrators applied earlier this year to the Massachusetts State Building Authority (MSBA) grant program, which is the same program the Tisbury School was accepted into this year for a new or renovated school. Ms. Regan hopes that because MVRHS offers both the traditional high school path and Career and Technical Education, that will set the school apart in the process. “I think the MSBA is sort of looking at the comprehensive and the career and technical schools with a closer eye,” she said.

Ms. Regan will be stepping down from the interim position at the end of the current school year, and Ms. Dingledy, current principal of Westchester Square Academy in New York City, will take over. Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea said Ms. Dingledy will be fully briefed on the goals outlined in the “School Improvement Plan.”

“She’ll get a copy of this, and right from the start, she’ll be meeting with the school council and looking at it,” he said.