Authors Posts by Janet Hefler

Janet Hefler

Janet Hefler
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The Chilmark School. —Photo by Susan Safford

The vast majority of Island teachers ranked proficient in performance ratingsreleased last Thursday by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Within those numbers, a percentage of teachers earned exemplary ratings, ranging from 1.9 percent in the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD), which includes West Tisbury School and Chilmark School, to 15.2 percent in the Edgartown School. Teachers ranked proficient ranged from 82 percent to 95 percent among Island schools.

Teachers ranked in the needs improvement category included 2.2 percent at Edgartown School, 6.5 percent at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, (MVRHS), and 7.7 percent in the UIRSD.

Three years ago, the state’s board of ESE adopted regulations that place educator practice and student learning at the center of evaluations, according to a press release. All educators, including superintendents, principals, and teachers, take part in a five-part evaluation cycle that includes self-assessment; analysis, goal setting and plan development; implementation of the plan; a formative assessment/evaluation; and a summative evaluation.

Every educator evaluated in 2013-14 received a summative performance rating of exemplary, proficient, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory. There were 279 teachers, including both those with professional status and those with non-professional status, evaluated in Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) and 12 at Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS), according to school and district profiles available on the DESE website.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at the results in great depth, however I’m struck by the large percentage of our teachers, in the high eighties and nineties, who are ranked proficient, which is what you would want,” MVPS superintendent James Weiss told The Times in a phone call Monday. “There is a small number, anywhere from 4 or 5 to 10 to 15 percent, ranked exemplary, and that doesn’t surprise me.

“We have some outstanding teachers, and although being rated an exemplary teacher under these standards is extremely hard to get, some people did,” Mr. Weiss added. “There are a few folks who need improvement — many of them are new teachers, but not all — and there’s nobody on the list, looking at all the zeroes that I see, that is unsatisfactory.”

Some data for districts and schools, including MVPCS, was not included in last week’s report. For confidentiality reasons, the DESE did not post performance ratings for individual educators, nor for schools or districts where fewer than six staff members were evaluated, or in cases where all staff evaluated in the same group received the same rating, or when all educators were evaluated and a single educator had a different rating than the rest.

In an email response to a request from The Times for comment about the Charter School teachers’ results, MVPCS director Bob Moore said, “The faculty at the Charter School is talented, highly knowledgeable of their curriculum, and bring multiple strategies to the classroom to ensure positive growth for each of their students.”

Chart

State and local results

Statewide, close to 71,700 educators in 372 districts were evaluated using systems aligned to the new state framework in the 2013-14 school year, according to a DESE press release dated November 13.

“Massachusetts leads the nation in student achievement, and our educators are the driving force behind those results,” Secretary of Education Matthew Malone said in the release. “We know that these evaluations help educators inform their practice and will positively impact student outcomes.”

Mr. Weiss said that using the new system has involved a learning curve.                           “I think it’s a process that we’re trying to get teachers to understand all of the standards, and teaching is more than any one of those things,” he said. “It’s how you work with kids, it’s how you work with other professionals, how you communicate with the larger community and parents, all of those things.”

And as Mr. Weiss noted last year, the evaluation results are affected by many factors, including how experienced a teacher or educator is.

Principals and assistant principals did the evaluations at the elementary school level. At the high school, the evaluators included the principal, two assistant principals, and directors of guidance, special education, and vocational education. The superintendent’s staff was involved in some of the educator evaluations, as well.

Among the results, those rated as exemplary were: 15.2 percent of the teachers evaluated at Edgartown School, 5.7 percent at Oak Bluffs School, 4.7 percent at Tisbury School, 1.9 percent in the up-Island schools in Chilmark and West Tisbury, and 9.4 percent at the regional high school.

The percentage of teachers ranked proficient included 82.6 percent at Edgartown School, 94.3 percent at Oak Bluffs School, 95.3 percent at Tisbury School, 90.4 percent in the up-Island schools, and 85.7 percent in the regional high school.

How the process works

The new evaluation system applies to all professional educators, including administrators such as superintendents, principals and assistant principals, and non-administrators such as guidance counselors, as well as teachers.

The evaluation system includes four broad statewide standards for administrators and teachers. The process involves five steps.

Previously on Martha’s Vineyard and elsewhere, teacher evaluations focused on classroom observation and a checklist of topics such as instruction, professionalism, and the classroom environment. Two significant changes in the new evaluation system are the requirement for evidence or documentation, and a set of very specific standards for teachers to follow.

Both teachers and administrators do self-assessments. They also gather evidence, then exchange and discuss it, Mr. Weiss explained to The Times in a previous interview. Evidence gathered by administrators includes reports on two kinds of classroom visits — formal observations, either announced or unannounced, and 5- to 10-minute walk-in visits on a regular basis.

The new evaluation system utilizes a chart that links impact on student learning to educator practice. If a teacher teaches an MCAS subject, it will be one of the determinants of his or her performance rating for impact on student learning.

An evaluation rating is not tied to compensation. However, a teacher or administrator with poor ratings in educator practice and/or student achievement who does not demonstrate improvement could lose his or her job.

According to the DESE regulations, a teacher with a low rating in impact on student learning would be put on a growth plan and be given one year to change his or her practice.

Next steps

The framework for the educator evaluation system is designed to help teachers and administrators collaborate and receive meaningful feedback that lets them recognize their strengths and address areas where they could do better, DESE Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester said in last week’s press release.

Teachers ranked in need of improvement, for example, would have a higher level of supervision and work on improving skills specified by their evaluator, Mr. Weiss said, which may include sending them to workshops, doing more observations of their classrooms, and pairing them with other teachers.

“The goal is to move them from ‘needs improvement’ to proficient,” he added. “This isn’t a gotcha kind of thing; it’s a matter of helping them to refine the things that they need to improve on.”

In an opening day program for MVPS educators for the 2013-14 school year, Mr. Weiss said he would try to make the new evaluation system less stressful by reducing some of the paperwork requirements. He also noted that a Joint Labor Management Committee, made up of some administrators, teachers, and representatives from the Island’s two educator associations, was meeting monthly to discuss how the evaluation system was working and how to make it better.

“We were able to reduce some of the paperwork by consolidating some of the forms, and although there is still quite a bit, it is less than before,” Mr. Weiss said this week.

“And we tried to assure all of the staff members that really what we’re talking about here is ways to improve instruction for kids,” he added. “Most of our staff are proficient or above; that’s where we want them. We want to honor a few who do exemplary work, and we want to help those folks who need a little improvement, especially if they’re probationary teachers.” Mr. Weiss said the level of observation is high for these teachers over the course of their first three years.

“So if people make it through those first three years, they’re going to be in a good place,” he said.

Mr. Moore said the Charter School’s staff has been divided into three groups, and that each group will go through the full evaluation process every three years. “Our teachers are asked to create goals each year that include their professional growth goals as well as school wide initiatives,” he said. “It is very much in line with how we always have evaluated staff.”

How the new system evolved

The educator evaluation system was piloted by DESE in 2012 in 233 school districts, including Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, that received state Race to the Top (RTT) funds. Massachusetts received a $250 million grant in 2010 as one of 12 winning states in the U.S. Department of Education’s RTT funds competition. Of that grant, Martha’s Vineyard public school districts will receive $118,129 over four years.

The funds are being used to promote educational reforms in grades K-12 in standards and assessment, teachers and leaders, school improvement, and data systems, which includes the development of a model system for educator evaluation.

Under the state’s rollout of the evaluation framework, RTT school districts were required to implement the new system and evaluate at least 50 percent of licensed educators during the 2012-13 school year. About one quarter to one third of licensed staff in the Island public schools were selected for evaluation that year. They included all probationary teachers who were in their first three years of teaching, and a portion of other teachers.

In the 2013-14 school year, RTT school districts such as the MVPS were required to evaluate all of their licensed educators, and non-RTT school districts, such as the Charter School, at least 50 percent of licensed educators.

The evaluation system applies to all professional educators, including administrators such as superintendents, principals and assistant principals, and non-administrators such as guidance counselors, as well as teachers.

In the 2015-16 school year, in addition to their summative performance ratings, educators will receive a student impact rating of high, moderate or low.

An educator’s student impact rating will include at least two years of data that identifies trends and patterns using multiple measures of student learning, growth and achievement, according to DESE. Student growth scores from state assessments, for example, MCAS, must be used as one of the measures when possible.

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Many windows in Martha's Vineyard Regional High School have rotted sills and frames. —Photo by Janet Hefler

Exterior doors with rotted frames and gaps where they meet the floor. Sagging, discolored ceiling tiles in most classrooms. Torn, threadbare carpets with permanent stains. Chipped floor tiles throughout the corridors. A cafeteria oven that no longer works.

Those were some of  building maintenance and repair issues observed by school committee budget subcommittee members and town finance committee representatives Wednesday morning during a tour of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS). It proved to be a game-changer in the fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget meeting that followed.

The meeting was the last in a series in the budget process, which began in October. On Monday, November 24, MVRHS principal Gil Traverso Traverso will present the final draft version of the FY16 budget at a public hearing that starts at 7 pm in the performing arts center.

Mr. Traverso led yesterday’s hour-long building tour, which also included school administrators, superintendent of schools James Weiss, and some of his staff prior to the subcommittee’s budget meeting, run by chairman Susan Mercier, starting at 8:45 am.

“We were in the lobby of the performing arts center today; it’s probably the place I frequent most, and I looked at the ceiling for the first time and Gil was saying, look at that, holes, things are going to fall down,” Tisbury finance and advisory committee (FinCom) member Bruce Lewellyn said in discussion of the tour later in the meeting. “I’d never looked at that, so I’m assuming the entire Island could pile in and out of there several times and not be aware of the fact it’s really a Third World country.”

The budget nuts and bolts

The FY16 budget includes total operating expenses of $18,414,692, a decrease of $131,557 or 0.71 percent from FY15. Island towns, however, would pay total assessments estimated at $15,863,870, an increase of $594,462 or 3.89 percent, compared with FY15.

MVRHS accounts manager Mark Friedman noted that since the subcommittee’s last meeting on November 3, adjustments made to the draft FY16 budget included the addition of $32,118 to the transportation budget to cover cost increases for special education and off-Island transportation, $13,264 for hockey players’ ice time based on a proposed rate increase by Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena, $10,000 for vocational education machinery, and $19,428 for the high school’s portion of the superintendent’s shared services budget, pending the All-Island School Committee’s vote Thursday night.

The most recent budget version also includes $78,214 for a new intervention coordinator, approved by the school committee on November 3, to handle alternative educational services mandated by a new state law regarding discipline and attendance policies. Also, $50,860 was added to a line item for non-special education tutoring for students with mental and physical health issues, as well as discipline problems.

As he explained at a previous budget meeting, Mr. Friedman said one of the FY16 budget’s biggest challenges is that although the high school will decrease its debt service expense by $490,000 with its last payment on a bond for a building addition, it will also lose $881,000 in annual revenue it receives as reimbursement for the project from the state.

To help offset that loss of revenue next year and lower the resulting increase in town assessments, Mr. Friedman said he and school business administrator Amy Tierney recommended using $175,000 from expected excess and deficiency (E and D) funds. He said they are confident the E and D funds will be up this year from last year, when certified by the state, and that amount will be available for the offset.

Mr. Weiss assured the school committee that the use of the E and D funds would be used to soften the blow of the loss of the state funds in the first year and “not something we’re going to do on a regular basis.”

Group reactions

Several school committee members and FinCom representatives objected.

“I don’t like that idea at all,” high school committee chairman Colleen McAndrews of Tisbury said. “We just toured this building, and I’m thinking about what $175,000 could do here this year.”

If the school has an unexpected big expense come up next year, she added, “Where is that money going to come from?”

Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, a West Tisbury selectman and longtime school committee member, said he thinks all E and D funds should go back to the towns. By law the high school is allowed to keep an amount of the funds that is less than than five percent of the operating budget to use for unanticipated or emergency expenses.

“If we need to spend money to improve the building, I think we should ask for it and have public participation on how we spend their money,” Mr. Manter said.

“What I’ve seen by walking around this building is staggering,” Chilmark FinCom member James Malkin said. Noting that he once ran global businesses, he said he has never seen the amount of moisture damage and rot around windows and frames, doors and frames, carpeting, and skylights, other than in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Mr. Malkin said repairs and maintenance would likely require thousands of dollars, and perhaps millions, to be spent over time. He suggested prioritizing projects and presenting them to the Island towns as soon as possible.

“After the tour this morning, I would like to see a top ten list of things that realistically we can fix this year,” Ms. McAndrews said. “We can’t fix some things, such as the air system this year, but others we can do immediately. I’m in shock, too. It’s unacceptable. It’s not fair to the kids and teachers.”

Mr. Friedman said the high school has already begun to take steps to address its deferred maintenance, which dates back to budget constraints related to the economic downturn in 2008, by reintroducing a five-year capital planning process.

Oak Bluffs finance and advisory committee representatives Maura McGroarty and Steve Auerbach also weighed in.

“I come from a town hard pressed for money,” Mr. Auerbach said. “I appreciate the gesture to put E and D money in to decrease our assessment, which would help us prevent having to ask voters for an override.”

Ms. McGroarty reminded everyone that every budget has a bottom line. “If you have 100 dollars and 20 dollars has to go into maintenance, that means only 80 dollars is available for everything else in your budget,” she said. “That’s what hits people who write the checks and go to town meeting. Unless you stay within the requirements of [Proposition] 2.5, you’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Mr. Manter suggested coming up with a five-year capital plan for the projects under discussion, which may require bonding, and then asking the towns for the money over a period of time.

The budget subcommittee came to the consensus that they would leave the $175,000 in E and D funds in the budget to offset the revenue loss, and instructed Mr. Friedman to look at possibly increasing the school’s maintenance budget by $175,000, as well.

Ms. Mercier reminded everyone about the budget public hearing Monday night and how important it is for not only the school committee members but also the Island community to attend. “Gil and Mark are working hard on the presentation, and we should be imploring people from the towns and on the high school committee to get the word out and get people there,” she said.

After the public hearing, the MVRHS school committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on the FY16 budget at a meeting on December 1.

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Members of the newly elected up-Island school committee attended a meeting at the Wampanoag Tribe administration building on November 10. From left, Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter of West Tisbury, Kate DeVane of West Tisbury, Theresa Manning of Aquinnah, Michael Marcus of West Tisbury, and Robert Lionette of Chilmark. —Photo by Janet Hefler

The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee met at the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah (Gay Head) administration building in Aquinnah Monday night, instead of at its usual venues, the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools.

To start, committee chairman Michael Marcus asked superintendent of schools James Weiss, school committee members, and school administrators to introduce themselves. The committee welcomed newly elected members Kate DeVane of West Tisbury and Theresa Manning of Aquinnah, and also paid tribute to Roxanne Ackerman, who did not attend the meeting. Ms. Ackerman was not reelected, after serving on the school committee for 31 years as a representative from Aquinnah.

“I want to welcome you all to tribal lands,” Wampanoag chairman Tobias J. Vanderhoop said. “Thank you for making the time to have your meeting here, and I look forward to participating in the evening’s event.”

Wampanoag education director Leigh French, Aquinnah selectman Jim Newman, and Aquinnah police sergeant Paul Manning, parent of a third-grader at West Tisbury School, also attended the meeting.

On the agenda was an annual review of Indian Policies and Procedures (IPP), as titled by the Federal government, that were jointly established by the district and the tribe. The IPP are required by the Federal government in order for the school district to qualify for Impact Aid funds. The intent of the IPP is to ensure equal participation of Wampanoag Tribe children in school education programs, and to encourage communication between the schools and the Wampanoag community.

The Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to local school districts that have lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt Federal property, including Indian lands and military bases. It has been the UIRSD school committee’s tradition since 2008 to return the money to Aquinnah, since the town receives no property tax from Wampanoag tribal housing that would go towards its school district assessment.

School business administrator Amy Tierney said the funds have diminished over the last several years and are down to about $11,000 a year. Children counted for Impact Aid are ones who live in tribal housing in Aquinnah, Ms. Tierney said, and account for three percent of the UIRSD enrollment, which qualifies the district for the funds. There were 12 children in fiscal year 2014 and 13 in fiscal year 2015.

School superintendent James Weiss said that some significant changes were last made to the IPP a few years ago. Ms. French, who is in her second year as Wampanoag education director and does not regularly attend up-Island school committee meetings, had a few questions. She noted that the IPP refers to student assessments, which include confidential information.

“How does that work?” she asked. “If most of the parents don’t want to participate, then is this agreement null and void?”

Mr. Weiss said the MVPS are required to have parents’ permission to exchange information with her, and that it would be helpful on both sides to have that permission for all tribal students.

Ms. French also asked whether the agreement between the UIRSD and Wampanoag Tribe extends to high school students who live on tribal land. Her concern was that elementary school students would lose monitoring and needs assessment services upon entering high school.

Mr. Weiss said the IPP document does not extend to the high school and is an agreement between the UIRSD and the tribe only. However, he added, “In the past we’ve tried to keep up with all of the students from the Tribe.”

The school committee agreed to discuss the IPP at its December meeting and to send a copy of any proposed changes to the tribe for its members’ approval before a final discussion and vote in January.

Full time SRO not wanted

In other business, the committee resumed a previous discussion about adding funds for a school resource officer, possibly full-time, to next year’s budget. Mr. Weiss read the committee the exact language from a new state law that went into effect last August that requires every chief of police, in consultation with the superintendent and subject to funding, to assign at least one school resource officer to serve the city, town, or regional school district.

Mr. Weiss said that he and the West Tisbury and Chilmark school principals met last Friday with the police chiefs from the district’s member towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury. Based on their discussion, he put together a draft proposal for an SRO’s responsibilities, which would not include acting as a school disciplinarian or involvement in discipline enforcement.

Mr. Weiss said that although there is no commitment to anything yet by the police departments or the UIRSD, West Tisbury and Aquinnah are considering assigning a half-time officer and Chilmark an officer 15 hours a week to implement the requirement for an SRO in the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools.

Each officer would attend an SRO training program and wear a modified uniform. The officer would have a vehicle available and carry a weapon.

After a lengthy discussion, the school committee members came to a consensus

that the decisions about SROs would be left up to the individual police chiefs and the funding for the position included in their department budgets. The committee also agreed that a full-time SRO would not be necessary.

At Mr. Marcus’s suggestion, the committee agreed to discuss the SRO proposal further at a budget workshop at 7 pm on November 17 at the Chilmark School. They will also discuss funding bathroom repairs that must be made now at the West Tisbury School and a proposed playground design contractor.

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Pedestrian traffic was one of the topics discussed at the meeting. The street fair, shown above, is one of Tisbury's main summer events drawing pedestrians. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Main Street in Tisbury topped a list of town treasures named by participants in a comprehensive planning effort led by the Tisbury planning board that was designed to set a path forward into the future.

The planning board held workshops last Wednesday at the Tisbury Senior Center and on Friday morning at the American Legion Hall to report the findings from a series of three community vision planning workshops held in September.

“We had a good turnout at both workshops, probably around 40 people at each,” said planning board member Cheryl Doble, who initiated the vision planning process, on Monday.

“Some were new, and a number of them had attended the first workshop,” she added. “So we’re getting this active group that’s growing, and we’re continuing to get a turnout that leads to really good conversations. That’s what we’re after, along with a better understanding on our part as we start to think about the responsibilities of the planning board and where we should be focusing.”

The goal of the vision planning workshops is to involve the community in town planning by identifying shared values, discussing concerns, and establishing a manageable set of goals and an action plan, according to Ms. Doble.

At the September workshop sessions, members of the Vision Planning Committee led groups seated at four large tables through a series of activities and recorded their responses on charts. Participants were asked to list Tisbury’s treasured places, opportunities the town has to make improvements, and the challenges it faces in doing so. For the last activity, participants were asked to describe their vision of what Tisbury should look like 10 years from now.

Over the past several weeks Ms. Doble and planning board member Ben Robinson pored through the charts and organized the information according to areas of consensus among the responses. Mr. Robinson said that what struck him while helping Ms. Doble with the data analysis was how important it is for people who live in Tisbury and other people who use the town to share their opinions and experiences.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s nice to see that people are willing to put the time in,” Mr. Robinson said.

Community member Steve Zablotny, who participated in the first workshop, helped condense its findings into a PowerPoint presentation for last week’s workshops. In addition to Main Street, Tashmoo overlook and preserve, the harbor and waterfront, Owen Park, a working waterfront, and the Vineyard Haven Public Library received the most mentions, between 30 to 60.

Determining the findings about challenges and opportunities proved more difficult, Ms. Doble said. She and Mr. Robinson came up with eight themes for the challenges and six for the opportunities, and then narrowed them down to the four for each that had the greatest number of responses.

For challenges, the topic areas were financial, town government, condition of property, and community. For opportunities, the topic areas were government, infrastructure, downtown, and community.

Ms. Doble said there were a few surprises in the first workshop responses. For example, biking was listed as a bigger challenge than walking in Tisbury.

“And that’s because people think that the community is basically walkable but that the safety issue of biking is huge, and that it’s critical that we do something,” she said.

Ms. Doble did a narrative for the PowerPoint presentation, which she said will be added as text and the whole package put up online soon on the town’s website at tisburyma.gov. At its conclusion, participants were asked to divide up into groups by choosing one of four topics they thought was most important to them.

The topics included parks, beaches, open space and neighborhood connections; a vibrant and connected downtown; waterfront and harbor; and pedestrian and bike networks.

After a 40- to 50-minute discussion, the workshop participants changed tables to discuss their second choice of topic. The information from those discussions will be incorporated into the next phase of the vision planning process.

“I think we’ll come out of this with some good information to present and be able to say, this is what you want, and here’s a way to achieve that,” planning board chairman Dan Seidman told The Times in a phone call Monday. “Now we need to put our shoulders into it and prioritize.”

Mr. Seidman said the workshop participants had a lot of ideas about opportunities for improving the town, but found it more difficult to figure out planning challenges and how to meet them.

“For example, people said they want more open space, but the challenge is how do you get it; where does it come from,” he said.

Mr. Seidman also pointed out that town planning is not just a matter of making decisions about building new facilities.

“What do you do with the Katharine Cornell Theatre, if town hall goes away? And if we build a new school, what do we do with the old one?” he said. “All of these things are interconnected and some people don’t take into account that when you increase infrastructure, you also have to plan for the costs.”

Mr. Seidman said the planning board would try to start with the goals easiest to achieve, and then move up from there.

“The vision plan helps guide the process, but turning the process into reality is going to be the toughest part of the problem,” he said. “If people have given their input, though, we think they will be more willing to handle the changes required to get to what ultimately will make this a more self-sustaining, viable town.”

Ms. Doble said the planning board is looking at hosting a public forum in January to present a summary of the workshops to date and to discuss what comes next.

“We’re thinking that there should continue to be some presentations followed by workshops over the winter, on topics such as climate change, sea level rise, environment, traffic, and parking, because these are things we need to talk about,” Ms. Doble said. “And we also may need to bring in people who either worked on these kinds of projects in their communities or are from a community that has tackled some of them, to share their experience.”

Future workshop and presentation dates will be announced.

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The U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha color guard, flanked by Island veterans, leads the parade to Ocean Park.

Flags waved in a crisp breeze under a cloudy sky Tuesday morning as Island veterans marched down Lake Avenue, to the applause of Islanders who lined the street, to Ocean Park for a ceremony that began at the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month, in commemoration of the time and date of the signing of the Armistice with Germany that ended World War I in 1918.

From left: Judy Williamson, Emma Williamson, Maggie Moffet and Peter Williamson lent their support.
From left: Judy Williamson, Emma Williamson, Maggie Moffet and Peter Williamson lent their support.

The marchers included Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, color guards from Coast Guard Station Menemsha and the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, Oak Bluffs selectmen, a contingent of first responders from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, State Police, and a representative from the Martha’s Vineyard Harley Riders. Family members and well-wishers gathered at the start of the short parade route at the head of Oak Bluffs harbor in front of Nancy’s restaurant for the start of the annual Veterans Day parade, one of hundreds of remembrances large and small across the country, to honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

At the end the short march, Peter Herrmann, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9261 and long-time parade organizer and host, called upon Lt. Col. David Berube, USAF, a chaplain in the National Guard Reserves and Oak Bluffs police officer, for an opening prayer.

“As we gather today, we remember our comrades who have been deployed throughout our country and around the world on behalf of our nation and our freedom,” Colonel Berube said. “Give to them and their families a sense of your peace, be with those who are prisoners or missing in action, and be with the families of the fallen, Lord.”

Emily Hewson, a student at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, sang the National Anthem during the Veterans Day ceremony, as veteran Peter Herrmann saluted the flag.
Emily Hewson, a student at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, sang the National Anthem during the Veterans Day ceremony, as veteran Peter Herrmann saluted the flag.

Mr. Herrmann led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Emily Hewson, a freshman at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, performed a solo of the National Anthem. Mr. Herrmann noted in his remarks that for the fourth year in a row, Oak Bluffs was designated a regional site for the observance of Veterans Day by the Veterans Day National Committee. He and Dukes County director of veterans services Jo Ann Murphy were responsible for submitting the application that led to Oak Bluffs being selected as one of 67 regional sites this year, and the only one in Massachusetts.

Mr. Herrmann introduced Ms. Murphy and noted her recent selection as the Massachusetts Veteran Service Officer of the Year by state Secretary of Veterans’ Services Coleman Nee, which brought applause from the crowd.

Dukes County director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy delivered a Veterans Day message sent from U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald.
Dukes County director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy delivered a Veterans Day message sent from U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald.

Ms. Murphy read a message from U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald sent for inclusion in the ceremony: “On Veterans’ Day, we pause to express our gratitude to those who have served our country, and to remember the sacrifices, large and small, physical and emotional, they have made. These individuals prioritized our country over themselves.

“We must continue to honor and provide them the benefits and services they have earned and deserve, no matter if those who wore a uniform never saw combat or never left U.S. soil. Each one is a veteran, and deserves to be honored, not only on Veterans Day but every day.”

Secretary McDonald also expressed appreciation for the support shown to the Veterans Administration by so many Americans, and offered special thanks to the Oak Bluffs Veterans Day regional site organizers.

“You recognize the bravery veterans have shown, and the many sacrifices they have made,” Mr. McDonald said. “We know we can rely on you to continue being an example of how all Americans should honor those who have defended our everyday freedom.”

Kristin Pucino-Gibson and her son, Aden ,laid a wreath at the Oak Bluffs World War I memorial in memory of her cousin, Staff Sergeant Matthew A. Pucino, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009.
Kristin Pucino-Gibson and her son, Aden ,laid a wreath at the Oak Bluffs World War I memorial in memory of her cousin, Staff Sergeant Matthew A. Pucino, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009.

Mr. Hermann invited Kristin Pucino-Gibson of Tisbury and her son Aden, 11, to place a wreath in front of the World War I memorial in memory of her cousin, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Matthew A. Pucino.

A member of the U.S. Army Special Forces’ Green Berets, SSG Pucino was killed in action on November 23, 2009, in Pashay Kala, Afghanistan. A gun salute followed the wreath-laying, in honor of soldiers who lost their lives during their service.

The ceremony concluded with “Taps,” played on the trumpet by American Legion Post 257 member Edson Rodgers, followed by a solo of “Amazing Grace” sung by Ms. Hewson.

Veteran Edson Rodgers played "Taps" at the conclusion of the Veterans Day ceremony.
Veteran Edson Rodgers played “Taps” at the conclusion of the Veterans Day ceremony.

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The Chilmark School. —Photo by Susan Safford

The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee has resumed debate (SRO) in recent fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget discussions about adding a full-time school resource officer. About one year ago, the school committee decided not to fund a full-time SRO in the FY14 budget, in order to continue its discussion and look at all of the options.

The subject came up again at a meeting two weeks ago, however, as the school committee began its initial review of the UIRSD’s draft $10.7 million FY15 budget. Superintendent of schools James Weiss noted that staffing costs are the driving factor in the proposed $10.7 million budget, an 8.49 percent increase over last year’s budget, including $80,000 for a proposed new full-time SRO.

The SRO debate took on new relevance last August, when Governor Deval Patrick signed, “An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence.” In addition to strengthening gun laws, the legislation also requires that every chief of police, in consultation with the superintendent and subject to funding, will assign at least one school resource officer to serve the city, town, or regional school district.

Mr. Weiss explained that the SRO position does not have to be full time, but it does require training. The budget includes an amount of $20,000 as a placeholder for the cost of sending possibly two officers off Island for training, depending on how the position is structured. Currently, police officers from the UIRSD’s member towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury make random visits to the Chilmark and West Tisbury Schools, according to West Tisbury School principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt.

After a lengthy discussion, the committee members decided they needed more information on the subject of school resource officers before voting on certifying the budget on November 17.

Mr. Weiss said he will meet with both school principals and the three up-Island police chiefs on Friday to gather information for more discussion at the upcoming UIRSD school committee meeting on Monday, November 10.

“I believe that we will discuss who pays for the salary and benefits, how much time does it take for the SRO to really be part of the school community, and how would we divide up the position if it is one person for both schools,” he said in an email to The Times.

Careful consideration

The UIRSD school committee has been wrestling with the idea of adding a school resource officer since December 2012. Committee member Michael Marcus of West Tisbury first suggested it in the wake of shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The school committee continued to discuss it over several months in 2013, in consultation with up-Island police departments. During the committee’s FY14 budget discussions last October, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt and Chilmark head of school Susan Stevens reported on comments they received from their school communities in regard to possibly adding a full-time SRO.

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said she conducted surveys among students in grades 6 through 8 and parents. Based on the many comments and questions she received, she said she would like more time to discuss and consider all the options. Ms. Stevens said the consensus in her school community was that a full-time school resource officer was not necessary at that time.

The school committee decided not to add the position to the FY14 budget and to continue the discussion.

Since then, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt told The Times in a phone conversation yesterday, she has talked with police officers in other towns, particularly Edgartown, and has concluded that she would be in favor of the daily presence of a police officer in the up-Island schools.

“If a school resource officer only works for a couple of hours a day, dividing time between West Tisbury and Chilmark, and is not actively involved in the schools, I think it would be hard to maintain the momentum of building relationships with the students,” she said. “I’m looking at recommending that we have someone assigned at least half-time.”

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt emphasized that discussions about what the SRO position would entail are still in the initial phases. “I think if the school committee decides to dedicate funding to it and it’s moving forward, designing a plan for the position and refining it through community input is probably more efficient and useful for coming up with a program that people feel comfortable with and will benefit our schools, as well,” she said.

No Island-wide standard

Law enforcement presence varies from school to school on Martha’s Vineyard. In a previous interview on the subject, Mr. Weiss said each school and police department has tried to develop the best possible solution for their situation.

The Island’s other elementary schools utilize part-time SROs. Edgartown police officers Joel DeRoche, David Rossi, and Stephanie Immelt share part-time SRO duties at Edgartown School. They split the week, working at the school while it is in session and then finishing up their shifts doing community police work.

At Tisbury School, Tisbury police officer Scott Ogden serves as an SRO for four hours a day, three days a week.

Last year, Oak Bluffs police officers began a simple, cost-effective plan to increase their presence at Oak Bluffs School by assigning a day shift officer to complete arrest reports or other clerical work in a small office near the gym and cafeteria.

The only full-time SRO in Island schools is Sergeant Michael Marchand at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), who was appointed through a memorandum of understanding between the Oak Bluffs Police Department, the town of Oak Bluffs, and MVRHS.

The MVRHS school committee approved $100,000 for salary and benefits for an SRO in the high school’s FY15 budget, approved by town meeting voters Island-wide last spring. The school committee voted unanimously in 2012 to explore creating the position of a full-time SRO. Plans for funding the position in the FY14 budget, however, were put on hold with news of unexpected increases in fixed costs that had to be covered.

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— File photo by Susan Safford

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) committee approved the addition of a new intervention coordinator position for the remainder of the current school year at a meeting Monday night. Principal Gil Traverso said the position is necessary to deal with a new state law that mandates changes in discipline and attendance policies that places a greater — and unfunded — burden on schools.

The new law, Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012, requires school districts to provide alternative educational services for students who are suspended from school for more than 10 consecutive days or expelled from school, and to pay for the associated costs. MVRHS has opted to offer them access to assignments through Edline or the guidance department, tutoring provided in a neutral setting, online course work, or night school if established at MVRHS.

The new law also 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 are 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.

A student is counted as absent if not present for two consecutive class periods, which constitutes a half-day at MVRHS, or the whole day, according to state law.

Absences and poor grades

In discussing the need for an intervention coordinator, Mr. Traverso provided a handout to the school committee with data regarding students with five or more unexcused absences and their grades.

In the 2013-2014 school year, Mr. Traverso said 463 students, or 68 percent of the total enrollment of 681, had five or more unexcused absences. Of those, 149 had overall scores resulting in a grade of D- or F, which was 22 percent of the total student body. Seventy-four students had F grades, which amounted to 11 percent of the total student body.

“Those are pretty staggering numbers,” Mr. Traverso said. “So you had students who received an F, and with a little bit of an intervention, those students could have been put over the top into a passing grade area average,” he said.

Mr. Traverso also noted that the high school’s average daily attendance last year was 94.13 percent.

“And I think that can seriously be improved if we do have an intervention coordinator that will work closely with students that pop up on the radar in the process that we’re going to be putting into place for addressing students that have these excessive absences,” he said.

Mr. Traverso followed up by raising the big question: “How are we going to pay for all this?”

MVRHS account manager Mark Friedman was ready with the numbers. He said there is about $113,000 available in the FY14 school budget due to savings in salaries for newly hired personnel that came in under budget and two vacant special education assistant positions that will not be filled this year. Mr. Friedman estimated that the salary for an intervention coordinator, prorated for six months, would be about $45,000.

“There are monies available in this year’s budget to do this, if that is the will of this committee,” Mr. Friedman said. “For the FY16 budget process, we’ll have to go back and take another look.”

Assistant principal Elliott Bennett told the school committee that the new coordinator’s duties would include developing behavioral support plans for students with five or more unexcused absences, and meeting with students, parents, guidance counselors, teachers, and special education staff to create a proactive program to keep the attendance rates up. The intervention coordinator would also help students with deficits in organizational skills that contribute to absences and create a relationship with them and their families. The job would also involve some home visits.

In addition, the intervention coordinator would be available to provide online support or to help administer online classes for students trying to make up credits.

The school committee voted unanimously to support the new position for the current fiscal year.

Off parents’ radar

The new law took effect on July 1. In an interview with The Times on Monday afternoon, Ms. Bennett and Andrew Berry, also an MVRHS assistant principal, said it has become very apparent that many parents are unaware of what it entails by the growing number of students with more than five unexcused absences.

“The law has changed; parents are going to be hearing from us if their child misses five days in a year, unexcused,” Mr. Berry said. “The same is true for all students Island-wide, in all grades.”

Parents are required to call the attendance office before school, if their child is going to be absent. However, that phone call does not automatically qualify the absence as excused.

The new law allows students only two parent-excused absences per academic quarter. The school nurse may grant up to two exemptions per academic quarter, with medical proof.

The list of reasons for excused absences is narrowly defined: prolonged or continuing illness or quarantine certified by a doctor that are serious enough to require more than five days’ absence; bereavement or serious illness in the family; weather inclement enough to endanger a child’s health; up to three documented college visits for juniors and seniors; school-sponsored trips or activities; a pre-planned, approved individual program; and observance of major religious holidays.

Students must bring a note from their parents or guardians on their return to school. Parents or guardians must submit a written or emailed explanation to the school within three days of the absence. Medical excuses must be given to the school nurse. All other excuses must be submitted to the attendance secretary.

“For the most part, we don’t have kids exceeding the number of unexcused absences because of sickness,” Mr. Berry said. “Usually if they are out three days or more, their parents would want to take them to a doctor.”

There is no limit on medically-excused absences, he added. However, a call and a note from a parent isn’t enough; a note from a medical professional is required.

“We really need parents to provide that written excuse so we can do this the right way and help them out,” Mr. Berry said. Otherwise, he added, once a student has five unexcused absences, the assistant principals will be sending out a letter to parents asking them to call the school.

Unfunded mandate burdensome

Ms. Bennett, who oversees grades 11 and 12, said she has 27 students currently on her list. She had meetings last week with seven of them and their parents to come up with a behavioral support plan, as the law requires. Mr. Berry, who oversees grades 9 and 10, said he had five meetings last week.

Ms. Bennett said the meetings involve not only the student but also parents and a guidance counselor. “We talk about the consequences of being absent and why it’s important to be in school, and how staying in school affects your goals,” she said. “We’re coming at it from the standpoint of this is why you need to be in school. We want to help you reach those goals and be as successful as you can.”

The behavioral modification plan includes finding solutions to the underlying causes for repeated absences, Ms. Bennett added.

“You can’t wake up to make it to the bus? A parent may have to get more involved by dropping the student off at the stop on the way work,” she said.

Both Ms. Bennett and Mr. Berry said parents have been very receptive at the meetings, as they are oftentimes frustrated by their children’s absences from school, too.

While the two assistant principals spoke highly of the intent of the stricter attendance requirements, they said the process is tremendously time-consuming for them. As Mr. Berry pointed out, “Over the last five to ten years, expectations from the state for assistant principals have really expanded, but the number of hours hasn’t.”

The school committee’s approval of the intervention coordinator’s position will definitely be a welcome change for them. In the meantime, however, they said they are hoping that more parents will become aware of the new law’s requirements.

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—Photo by Michael Cummo

The Tisbury selectmen held an eight-minute meeting Tuesday night before they voted unanimously to go into executive session to hear four grievances from Department of Public Works (DPW) employees.

“There just seems to be a plethora of this going on and some disconnect in communication happening here, and I just think we need to look at the bigger picture here, “selectman Tristan Israel commented before the vote.

Selectman chairman Jon Snyder said a representative present from the employees’ union had asked that the selectmen hold the hearings in executive session.

Ten or so people who came to discuss items on the agenda were irked by the news that they would have to leave and come back when the selectmen resumed their regular meeting. Many of them, including Tashmoo Spring Building management committee chairman Patricia Carlet, had given up the wait and gone home when the executive session ended an hour and 15 minutes later and missed the additional hour-long regular session.

In a phone conversation with The Times on Wednesday, Ms. Carlet said she was told the agenda was changed to accommodate the DPW employee union representative so that he could make the last ferry to Woods Hole.

“My question was, why didn’t they know ahead of time this was going to be the case and rearrange things, or why didn’t the union provide the rep with an overnight stay at a local hotel?” Ms. Carlet said. “If in fact someone has to make a boat, the people bringing the person before the selectmen should make arrangements so they don’t inconvenience everyone else.”

“It was a matter of trying to balance inconveniencing one group versus inconveniencing another,” Mr. Snyder said in a phone call Wednesday. “It was my judgment call, and perhaps there was another way it could have been handled.”

When asked about the nature of the DPW grievances, Mr. Snyder said, “We now have a DPW where communication is not as smooth as I’d like to see it. That’s the underlying cause.”

Mr. Snyder said the selectmen would seek a discussion with the Board of Public Works, which oversees the DPW autonomously. “I will be reaching out to several of the DPW commissioners over the next couple of weeks,” he said.

The Times emailed DPW director Glenn Mauk on Wednesday regarding the nature of the grievances discussed and the outcome of the executive session.

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on personnel matters discussed in a Board of Selectmen executive session meeting,” Mr. Mauk replied in an email. “I suggest that you contact the Town Administrator, Jay Grande, for further information on the matters.”

Mr. Mauk did not respond when asked about the root of the DPW employees’ unhappiness.

In other business, the selectmen approved hiring Gary D. Robinson as an energy manager, a grant-funded position that will be shared with the towns of Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. Among his duties the energy manager will oversee implementation of the towns’ energy plans, and develop and manage energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

The selectmen also voted to appoint Donald McGillivray as a seasonal part-time shellfish assistant and Dan Seidman to the traffic committee. In addition, they approved a $7,520 formula grant application for the Council on Aging Motion. They also agreed to pursue the idea of using goats to control vegetation near the Tashmoo overlook and under power lines, subject to discussions with the DPW, Tisbury Water Works, and NSTAR.

The next regular selectmen’s meeting will be at 5:30 pm on November 18.

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File photo by Janet Hefler

Call it the only race in town. With no local electoral contests, the six-way race for five seats on the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee is shaping up as the only contest.

Voters in Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury will elect five people to four-year terms. There are two names on the official ballot and four declared write-in candidates. The three candidates, one from each town, who receive the highest vote totals in Tuesday’s balloting will each represent his or her town. The two candidates who receive the next highest vote totals will be elected as at-large members regardless of where they live.

The race is complicated by the fact that no Aquinnah or Chilmark resident is on the ballot. Those races will need to be decided by write-in votes.

The person who receives the highest total of write-in votes will be considered the winner. If that person declines to serve, the position is declared vacant and the selectmen and school committee meet to select someone to fill the seat.

Town clerks will not only need to decipher names, but they will need to track down a candidate’s town, if voters fail to provide that critical information.

Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter and Michael Marcus are running for reelection from West Tisbury and appear on the ballot.

Mr. Manter, a police sergeant, has served on the UIRSD school committee since 1998. He has also served on the West Tisbury board of selectman since 2003. Over the years Mr. Manter has served on numerous town boards and committees, including the finance committee where he has carved out a role as a fiscal conservative. He currently is a member of the town’s Parks and Recreation Board, Council on Aging, and Dukes County Advisory Board.

Mr. Marcus is a real estate and tax specialist who works in the institutional real estate arena. His three children attend West Tisbury School. Mr. Marcus was elected to the UIRSD school committee in 2010 and currently serves as its chairman. He is on an interview and search committee to choose a new school superintendent.

There are four declared write-in candidates.

Roxanne Ackerman is running for reelection as a write-in candidate from Aquinnah. Ms. Ackerman, a librarian and commercial fisherman, has been a UIRSD school committee member since 1983. She is Aquinnah’s representative on the regional high school committee, serves on the budget subcommittee and school library improvement plan committee and is also is a member of the superintendent’s office building committee.

Kate DeVane is running as a write-in candidate from West Tisbury. Ms. DeVane, the mother of nine-year-old twins, works as a landscape coordinator for Donaroma’s Nursery and Landscaping Services. A former elementary school teacher, Ms. DeVane is a member of the West Tisbury School Advisory Council. She is also the co-chairman of the Parent Advisory Council on Special Education and the president and co-founder of the Island Autism Group.

Robert Lionette is running for reelection as a write-in candidate from Chilmark. Mr. Lionette, a chef at Morning Glory Farm, was appointed to the UIRSD school committee in 2012 by the Chilmark selectmen. He currently serves as its vice-chairman and also on the personnel subcommittees of the regional high school and all-Island school committees. Mr. Lionette’s son attends Chilmark School.

Theresa Manning, a write-in candidate from Aquinnah, is a co-coordinator for the Dukes County Youth Task Force, a coalition of over 50 community members that promotes community-wide health and wellness for youth and families to reduce substance use and other risky behaviors. Ms. Manning has a son who attends West Tisbury School, and two step-children, now adults, who attended Island schools.

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The Dukes County Court House. —Photo by Michael Cummo

A group of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students appeared before Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara J. Rouse at the Dukes County Courthouse Thursday. However, unlike many of the citizens that appear before Judge Rouse, they were invited, not summonsed.

Last week, Chief Justice Rouse hosted a forum to provide students with a firsthand account of her life as a judge and a lesson in civics and the state’s judicial system. Her visit to the Dukes County Courthouse was part of her farewell tour of Massachusetts courthouses before she retires in December, at the mandatory age of 70.

Former Oak Bluffs School principal Gerry Moriarty made the arrangements for the forum, attended by 20 Island students. They were accompanied by history teacher Olsen Houghton, who is also the student government faculty advisor, and joined by school superintendent James Weiss and high school committee member Lisa Reagan of Oak Bluffs.

Superior Court Clerk Joe Sollitto introduced Judge Rouse, noting that he first met her in 1981 when she appeared as defense counsel for a case in the Dukes County Superior Court. At that time she was a partner in the law firm Csaplar & Bok.

“I’m sad about letting Judge Rouse go,” Mr. Sollitto said. “She has been a great judge and a superior leader.”

Governor Michael S. Dukakis appointed Ms. Rouse to the bench in 1985 as an associate justice in the Massachusetts Superior Courts, Mr. Sollitto said. She returned to Edgartown in her new role in 2002 to preside over a session of Superior Court. Judge Rouse was named Chief Justice of the Superior Court in 2004 and reappointed to another five-year term in 2009.

Before turning the forum over to Judge Rouse, Mr. Sollitto welcomed Edgartown Attorney Martin Tomassian, the Dukes County Bar Association president, and about a dozen of the association’s attorneys seated on the jury benches. Mr. Sollitto also introduced District Court clerk magistrate Liza Williamson and Cape and Islands assistant district attorneys Laura Marshard and Brian Glenny.

“It’s a true pleasure to be back on Martha’s Vineyard,” Judge Rouse said.

Jury service highly recommended

Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara Rouse, right,  Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard Chin and Dukes County Superior Court clerk of court Joe Sollitto hosted a group of students. — Photo by Michael Cummo
Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara Rouse, right, Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard Chin and Dukes County Superior Court clerk of court Joe Sollitto hosted a group of students. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Ms. Rouse showed students a video that is viewed by all prospective jurors statewide. She said jury duty and voting are two of the most important services a citizen can perform.

“I have found over the years that no matter how reluctant a juror is to serve, I have never encountered one that was disappointed or resentful about serving on a jury afterwards,” Judge Rouse said following the video. “Many have said they find the experience empowering, and that it made them feel a part of democracy.”

She asked Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin, who is now presiding over the fall session of Superior Court, whether he had served on a jury. He said he was impaneled on a jury shortly after he was first appointed to the bench in 1989, for one of the state’s first cases involving domestic abuse and violence.

“As a new judge, it was the best experience I could have had,” Judge Chin said. “It renewed my confidence in the jury system and the responsibility of my fellow jurors.”

Ms. Rouse noted that jury duty has changed for the better over the years. “When I started as a lawyer 30 years ago, judges asked jurors to sit for the duration of the trial and keep their mouths shut, and then listen to the judge tell them about the relevant law,” she said.

Now, she added, more and more judges are allowing jurors to take notes, to ask questions of witnesses in civil cases, and to receive written or taped instructions to involve them in the decision-making process.

“I hope you will get the experience to serve as a juror someday,” she told the students. “I think you will enjoy it and take away a lot from it.”

Judge Rouse explained that the Superior Court handles both criminal and civil actions with a value over $25,000. There are 82 judges in the Superior Court who circulate around the state’s 24 courthouses.

She pointed out that Massachusetts judges are appointed for life, rather than elected as in most states, which gives them the advantage of making decisions without fear of losing favor with campaign contributors or being ousted for unpopular rulings.

Questions for the judges

After discussing juror service and how the court system works, Chief Justice Rouse handed out brochures that included a student’s guide to jury duty.

Ms. Williamson invited the students to observe a session of District Court anytime, particularly small claims court, which is held on Wednesday afternoons. “We deal with some Judge Judy type cases I think you might find very interesting,” she said.

Judge Rouse allowed time near the forum’s end for questions from students.

“What is the hardest aspect of being a judge?” Josie Iadicicco asked.

The chief justice deferred to Judge Chin.

“The hardest part is sentencing,” he said. “When you have to deprive someone of their liberty, that’s one of the most important things we do, and we take it very seriously. It’s always a difficult task.”

Ms. Rouse agreed. “Judges have responsibilities that only they can discharge, and sentencing is one of them,” she said.

Molly Houghton asked whether a judge can overrule a jury verdict.

“Yes, but we exercise that very sparingly,” Chief Justice Rouse said. “In 30 years, I may have done that two to three times.”

Justine Cassel asked if she ever overruled her own opinion.

“We rarely exercise that authority,” Ms. Rouse said. “We have appellate courts that just look at all of the records of a case to see if legal errors have been made.”

Edgartown attorney Martin Tomassian wrapped up the forum by inviting the students to participate in the Massachusetts Bar Association’s High School Mock Trial Program next spring.

“I hope I can encourage you to go on and participate in our democracy,” Judge Rouse said in closing. “And for all of you who want to become lawyers, I hope your dream comes true.”