Authors Posts by Janet Hefler

Janet Hefler

Janet Hefler
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A total of $1 million was awarded to youth programs and students.

Lindsey Scott, MVYouth Executive Director and Julie Fay, Martha's Vineyard Community Services Executive Director cut the ribbon on the new Island Wide Youth Collaborative building. Photo courtesy of MV Community Services

In its first year of tent-free fundraising, the new Island non-profit MVYouth (MVY) hit the ground running. A total of $1 million was used to help fund construction of the Island Wide Youth Collaborative building, a baseball field for Little Leaguers, and five four-year scholarships of varying amounts.

The MVY’s mission is to provide capital for exceptional Island organizations serving children, teens and young adults, and college scholarships for deserving students.

In keeping with that mission, MVY awarded about $800,000 to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) and Martha’s Vineyard (MV) Little League. Another $75,000 was awarded to five high school seniors for renewable college scholarships that will total nearly $300,000 over four years.

MVY founders and co-chairmen Dan Stanton and Jim Swartz provided an update on the organization’s first year in a meeting with The Times last week. MVY executive director Lindsey Scott and Attorney Ronald Rappaport, a trustee and the advisory board’s chairman, also attended.

Summer residents of Edgartown, Mr. Stanton and Mr. Swartz are friends who share backgrounds in banking and finance, as well as long histories of supporting causes that help young people. Mr. Stanton, a retired partner from Goldman, Sachs & Company, was a founder of The Boathouse in Edgartown and currently serves as its president. He also is on the board of the Vineyard Golf Club.

Mr. Swartz is the founder of Accel Partners, a global venture capital firm, and Impact Partners, a financing and advisory firm advancing independent cinema. He has been a strong supporter of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and served as co-chairman of its capital campaign.

Mr. Stanton said they were prompted to create a new non-profit organization in part by a shared past experience in sponsoring a party for an off-Island group.

“It was a really nice event, and at the end of it, we raised almost to the dollar what the event cost,” Mr. Stanton recalled. “And I went to Jim and I said, you know, this is like the definition of running in place, and we’re just not getting anywhere. I said I want us to think about a different approach, that would really would do more than add to operating budgets and could really move the needle, and to use a word Jim uses, have impact.”

“One of the driving objectives that Dan and I thought about was we wanted to help smaller groups on the Island get out of the perpetual fundraising cycle,” Mr. Swartz added. “I call it eliminating the chicken dinners, the pancake breakfasts.”

In a unique departure from many of the Island’s non-profit organizations, he and Mr. Stanton proposed that MVY would operate on a flow-through model that eliminates the usual tent type of summer fundraising events. Instead, they asked founding donors to pledge to contribute $25,000 annually for a minimum of four years, with $1 million to be disbursed annually. The contributions flow directly to the causes, similar to the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City and Tipping Point Community in San Francisco.

Administrative, overhead, and operating expenses are divided up and paid for separately by the donors, which amounted to about $1,000 each this year, Mr. Swartz said. Ms. Scott, the only paid employee, works part-time from her home in Chilmark.

“People know they’re writing a check once a year, and they know exactly what the organization is costing them; they know where it’s going,” Mr. Swartz said.

As a result, he added, MVY seemed to hit a responsive chord with younger people with resources, most of them seasonal residents, who cared about the Island and wanted to give to local causes, but who hadn’t gotten connected with any yet.

“We wanted to provide a convenient, easy, low-friction way for them to engage with what the needs of the Island are,” Mr. Swartz said.

MVY, launched last summer, went from no founders last summer to over forty in six weeks, Mr. Stanton said. In the interest of sustainability, he added, “We’re trying to bring in five to ten new founders every year. We finished last year with 46, and brought in about five this year.”

MVY awarded its capital grants in the fall and early winter, and scholarships in late winter and spring. The board of trustees voted unanimously to award $177,810 to the MV Little League to complete the construction of Penn Field in the spring in time to serve as home field this season.

MVY also awarded MVCS $620,780 to build a facility for the Island Wide Youth collaborative, which will integrate services for youth people struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last week at the completed new facility, built on the MVCS campus across from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

“The people who came up to talk to me, you could feel the emotion in their voices,” Mr. Stanton said of the event. “You could see it, that this was really something that accomplished a dream some of them have had and they felt very strongly about.”

Mr. Stanton said that last year MVY received 30-plus scholarship grant applications, which local advisory board members vetted and narrowed down to 12 students.

Five finalists were selected based on merit and need. The MVY scholarships filled the void between the financial packages their colleges of choice offered and what their families could afford to pay, Mr. Stanton said, and the money is already in the bank in escrow.

Recipients and the colleges they will attend are Lee Faraca, California Polytechnic State University; Anne Ollen, Barnard College; Charles Parkhurst, UCLA; Gayla Walt, Tufts University; and Madeleine Moore, University of Chicago.

MVY also presented the other seven scholarship semi-finalists with a backpack, an iPad, and a $1,000 gift certificate for the bookstore of their college of choice at the high school’s class night on June 12.

Mr. Stanton said MVY worked hand in glove with high school administrators to avoid duplication in awarding scholarships. “Once the school knew who the MVYouth recipients were, it took them out of the competition for other monies and freed it up for other students,” he said.

Mr. Rappaport is a founding director of Reynolds, Rappaport, Kaplan and Hackney law firm in Edgartown. As town counsel for Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and West Tisbury, he has been involved with many Vineyard civic organizations, and he is familiar with the Island’s non-profit scene.  

In addition to seeking new donors who are not committed to other causes, Mr. Rappaport pointed out that MVY also has made it a goal not to compete with other Island charities, which have enough difficulty raising money as it is.  “I’ve done the best I could to make calls to different organizations to see if they’ve had any drop-off as a result of this,” he said.

The deadline for MVY’s next grant cycle is October 15, Ms. Scott said. The local advisory board will then review the applications and narrow them down to semi-finalists to recommend to the board of trustees, which will make the final decisions.

Detailed information about MVY, including a list of donors, grant and scholarship criteria, and its application processes, is available online at www.mvyouth.com.

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Although Mr. Weiss has cut out his neckties, his ties to Martha’s Vineyard remain.

Dr. Weiss enters his party with an ear-to-ear smile. Photo by Michael Cummo

Newly retired Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools Superintendent James Weiss arrived at a celebration held in his honor Saturday night at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, dressed for the part. His characteristic white dress shirt and necktie were replaced with an open-collared sports shirt.

In a nod to Mr. Weiss’s sartorial habit, party organizers asked all guests, men and women alike, to don a tie — not just any tie, one of Mr. Weiss’s neckties. Upon entering the hall, guests found a seemingly endless supply of ties in an array of bright colors and whimsical patterns hung on racks.

Freed from his usual restrictive fashion accessory on the sultry summer evening, Mr. Weiss gamely put on a festive sash that read “Retired” on the front, and “Now the Fun Begins” on the back.

The celebration marked Mr. Weiss’s retirement on June 30. His career spanned 46 years as an educator, 10 of them spent at the helm of Martha’s Vineyard’s Superintendency Union No. 19, where he had responsibility for the Island’s six public schools. About 150 people attended, including an assortment of educators and school committee members past and present, town officials, representatives from the YMCA and other youth-oriented organizations, community members from Island-wide, and friends and former educational colleagues from Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Mr. Weiss also enjoyed the company of family, including his son Joel and his fiancé, Nicole Boudreau of Raymond, N.H., who made their first trip to Martha’s Vineyard, as did his sister Susan Miller and her significant other, Morrill Hay, from Delray Beach, Fla.

To Mr. Weiss’s delight, the crowd also included mystery guests dressed as Cookie Monster, Yoda, a wizard, a panda bear, and a turkey in some of the costumes he wore in years past as an annual Halloween tradition on visits to Island schools.

All-Island School Committee Chairman Susan Mercier alluded to a possibly covert operation in which she said the costumes were “graciously donated” by Mr. Weiss, “removed one night from his personal collection.” Mr. Weiss said he didn’t know how the party planners pulled it off, but he loved seeing the costumes there. “I didn’t even know they were missing — that says something, I guess,” he admitted with a laugh.

Although the occasion of Mr. Weiss’s retirement was bittersweet for many, humor, admiration, and appreciation were the hallmarks of the three-hour celebration. About an hour into the festivities, Ms. Mercier emceed a brief program that started with remarks from longtime director of Student Support Services Dan Seklecki, who retired in 2012.

Mr. Seklecki recalled that he worked with eight superintendents before Mr. Weiss, who upon his arrival “became very rapidly known for his boundless energy.”

“Without a doubt, we owe Jim a great deal,” Mr. Seklecki said. “These were very, very complex and challenging times in our public schools. You were our best ambassador, and you are a gift to us all.”

Edgartown Police Chief David Rossi, a former longtime Edgartown School Committee member and Edgartown School resource officer, read a citation of recognition for Mr. Weiss’s service as a superintendent from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, courtesy of Rep. Tim Madden.

“Truly, you’ve made an impact, and you’ve made advances for kids and parents on the Island,” Mr. Rossi added. “And they’ll feel that for years to come. So on the community’s behalf, well done.”

Judy Crawford, YMCA president of the board and chairman, recalled working with Mr. Weiss on many projects through the years, and commended him for his understanding of town politics Island-wide.

To honor Mr. Weiss’s years of service to the Y and the public schools, Ms. Crawford said, the YMCA Board and staff would award a full family membership to a deserving Island family for the 2015-16 school year in his name.

Ms. Mercier welcomed remarks from others in the audience, as well. The program also included music by “Sound Wave,” an a capella branch of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Minnesingers. Another highlight was a four-minute presentation by former high school teacher and MVTV board chairman Anne Lemenager, featuring video clips and photos of Mr. Weiss at school activities through the years.

Ms. Mercier said that part of the $25 ticket price and community donations for the event would be used to establish a student activity fund at the high school in Mr. Weiss’s name. She thanked her fellow party organizers, Barbara Jones, Sandy Joyce, Edith Rousseau, Colleen McAndrews, Skipper Manter, Lisa Reagan, Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, and Priscilla Sylvia. Ms. Mercier also recognized caterer Bernie Cormie of Herring Run Kitchens and Provisions for providing the tasty assortment of Mr. Weiss’s favorite finger foods.

“We just want people to know — we didn’t choose this menu,” Ms. Mercier noted with a laugh. “Jim doesn’t eat vegetables. Grilled cheese, burgers, pigs in a blanket: It’s all for Jim.”

In addition to many heartfelt tributes, Mr. Weiss received several gifts, including ones from each of the Island schools. At the program’s conclusion, he said he couldn’t thank everyone enough.

“I’ve loved most jobs I’ve had, but this has been a very special place, a place that really has just welcomed me and allowed to do the things that I think are important,” Mr. Weiss said. “I thank everybody from Martha’s Vineyard for that.”

 

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This year, Mr. Weiss’s school vacation won’t end in September.

One week before his retirement and still hard at work, Superintendent of Schools James Weiss reflected on his career in a conversation with The Times. – Photo by Michael Cummo

For the first time in his 46 years as an educator, newly retired Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent of Schools James Weiss can look forward to an unending school vacation. On Monday, June 29, as students squirmed through a half-day at school and then began their long-awaited summer vacation, Mr. Weiss finished his 10th school year at the helm of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS). That Wednesday he started his first day of retirement.

Mr. Weiss spoke with The Times in his office amid his busy end-of-the-year schedule, about the decade he spent at the helm of the Island’s Superintendency Union No. 19. His responsibilities included the Island’s six public schools, which operate as five separate political entities: the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury K-8 school districts; a regional K-8 school district for the up-Island towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury; and a regional high school district.

“I’ve been a superintendent for 26 years, 10 of them here, and this has clearly been the best job I had,” Mr. Weiss said, in his characteristically upbeat and cheerful manner. “And it’s because of the people. People really band together when there’s a crisis. People will step up to the plate and do what needs to be done, and I find that very refreshing and very important. So from that point of view, this has been a great place to work for 10 years and finish my career.”

A self-professed beach lover, the well-liked and respected superintendent received a gift basket of beach-related items to enjoy in his retirement from Oak Bluffs School, as well as a new beach chair from the high school class of 2015 at their graduation ceremonies, which he attended. He said he’s already tried it out.

“I’m ready to sit on the beach and not do anything else,” Mr. Weiss said. “A couple of people have said to me, Are you going to be an interim someplace; are you going to do consulting? And the answer is no.”

Mr. Weiss said he plans to take the first year of retirement to travel a bit and figure out what he is going to do next.

“But it won’t be anything to do with schools,” he added. “First of all, I’ve done enough, and it’s time. Secondly, I certainly wouldn’t do it here. Other people are going to do that, and I don’t want to be in their way. And I have no real desire to keep going.”

 

The highs and lows

Asked what he considers some of the high points of his Vineyard career, Mr. Weiss said three things came to mind: changes to elementary-level mathematics and the beginning of honors algebra; the addition of a nursing-assistant program at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS); and a move by all the schools to add enrichment programs.

“We’ve done a lot of things to push our kids, and I think that’s a good thing,” he said of the enrichment programs. “We also at the same time have added a lot of supports — remedial teachers — and I say those two together, because really, what we’re trying to do is teach every child. Not just the ones in the middle; the students who are at the top, to get them accelerated learning, and the ones who are struggling, to get them some support.”

Mr. Weiss said he is also proud of the connections the MVPS made in the community with organizations such as the YMCA and the Sharks baseball team, as well as community partners such as the Island Grown Initiative, the Yard, and Felix Neck.

The growth of shared-service programs is another highlight, he added, such as the Bridge Program for students with autism-spectrum disorders and communication and social-interaction disorders, Project Headway preschool special education services, and social skills classes.

And if he could snap his fingers to instantly change something that has been the most challenging and frustrating for him these past 10 years?

“You’re sitting in it — this building,” Mr. Weiss answered, without a moment’s hesitation. The current superintendent’s offices are housed in a cramped, deteriorating former church, built 90 years ago, at 4 Pine Street in Tisbury.

A warrant article sponsored by the MVRHS school committee and town selectmen and finance committees asked voters at town meetings Island-wide in the spring to approve borrowing $3.9 million to fund the design and construction and to equip and furnish a new administrative building on the high school’s grounds. The article failed to achieve unanimous approval in all six towns.

“I understand that we didn’t do a good job of marketing it this year at town meetings, and there were lots of other things on the warrants, but this building doesn’t work,” Mr. Weiss said.

“We’ve had people who are handicapped who can’t come in; it’s a real problem. And the HVAC doesn’t work; the electrical system doesn’t work; there’s no confidentiality or privacy. It really has been a struggle, and we haven’t gotten very far. That’s a real disappointment.”

 

Lessons of a decade

When asked what he considers unique about the Vineyard’s education system, Mr. Weiss said after attending town meetings and school graduations Island-wide, what stands out for him is that the small Island’s six towns are so very different.

“And you know that, sure, there are going to be differences here, but the amount of difference, the amount of challenge in some of these communities, is really surprising,” he added. “And the whole notion of, ‘We can’t give up our school, we can’t give up what’s special to us, and work together,’ makes it difficult.”

Mr. Weiss said although most of school budgets go to fund personnel, some savings could be achieved through efficiency if schools were willing to put aside their differences and collaborate more. “I think the notion is beginning to take hold, but it will take some more time for it to actually happen,” he said.

When asked what he has learned over his last decade as an educator, Mr. Weiss said he believes schools still have a very important role to play, but that educators have to be very careful about how they make decisions.

“There is too much testing; there’s too much focus on what happens next, and not enough on the child and where he or she is at that point in their life,” he said. “We talk about teachable moments, we talk about age-appropriateness, and some of that gets lost in the shuffle. And that’s too bad. I think we’re pushing kids too fast and too hard. And that takes a toll on kids.”

Mr. Weiss said children today have psychological issues they didn’t have in the past, because the pressures are greater.

“That does concern me,” he said. “That hits teachers and school committees, and administrators as well, because they have to provide for it. But it’s the kids who take the brunt of it.”

 

Passing the torch

Mr. Weiss announced his plans to retire more than a year ago. He submitted his letter of retirement to the All-Island School Committee (AISC) last fall in order to allow ample time for a search process.

The AISC subsequently appointed a committee representing educators and Island stakeholders that conducted a nationwide search. Two of the three finalists selected were Island candidates, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Matthew D’Andrea and Oak Bluffs School Principal Richard Smith, who were named superintendent and assistant superintendent, respectively.

Asked what advice he might give Mr. D’Andrea, Mr. Weiss had three suggestions: to set his own tone and expectations; to remember that the job is a people business, both kids and adults; and not to lose contact with the students he is supposed to work with and support.

The last piece of advice is one that Mr. Weiss put into practice many times over the past 10 years, as an enthusiastic and supportive presence at countless sports events, team and club fundraisers, plays, concerts, science fairs, spelling bees, and many other student extracurricular activities. He also made it a point to send personal letters to students commending them for their achievements and participation in various activities, as well as cards and notes to his office staff, administrators, teachers, and school personnel.

Knowing he would be retiring, Mr. Weiss said, last September he started documenting the tasks he does on a regular basis as part of his job, as well as things he does as a matter of personal style, such as dressing in costume on Halloween for visits with elementary students.

“I don’t expect anybody else to do that, but I want the next person to know I did that, as a reference in case there are any questions,” Mr. Weiss said.

“I’m fortunate because Matt and Richie both are on the Island,” he added. “Since they’ve been appointed, we’ve been talking a lot, and going through a lot of things, trying to shift some duties to them so they can experience the craziness that is Martha’s Vineyard sometimes and the wonderful things that are Martha’s Vineyard.

“In lots of ways I’ve really fallen in love with the Vineyard,” Mr. Weiss said at the interview’s conclusion. “I’m going to stay here, and retire here, and enjoy it in a different way.”

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The Island community honored the nation's fallen heroes with a ceremony at Oak Grove cemetery in Vineyard Haven Monday.

Behind a billowing American flag, marchers in the annual Memorial Day parade walked to Oak Grove cemetery in Vineyard Haven.

A large crowd gathered in Tisbury under sunny skies as flags fluttered in a light breeze Monday morning for the annual Martha’s Vineyard Memorial Day parade and ceremony to pay tribute to those who died in service to the nation.

Veterans of all ages and from several wars participated in the ceremony to mark the nation's war dead.
Veterans of all ages and from several wars participated in the ceremony to mark the nation’s war dead.

It was a day that brought to mind the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Civil War veteran. In his remarks, guest speaker Navy Reserve Commander Paul J. Brawley quoted the famed jurist: “Every year in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life, there comes a pause and, through the silence, we hear the lonely pipe of death.”

Guest speaker Navy Reserve Commander Paul J. Brawley said, “Together, we gather to remember America's sons and daughters who sacrificed everything in the defense of our nation."
Guest speaker Navy Reserve Commander Paul J. Brawley said, “Together, we gather to remember America’s sons and daughters who sacrificed everything in the defense of our nation.”

A color guard from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha took the lead as the parade stepped off at 10 am from American Legion Post 257, opposite Tisbury School. Military veterans, joined by members of the Island police departments, State Police, Dukes County Sheriff’s office, emergency response personnel, the three Tisbury selectmen, and a large contingent of Boy and Girl Scouts, then marched up Pine Street to the nearby Oak Grove cemetery.

JoAnn Murphy, Dukes County Director of Veterans Services, emceed the ceremony that followed. Girl Scout Sylvi Carroll and Boy Scout William Hermann raised then lowered the American flag to half-mast.

In keeping with a several year tradition, Natalie Wood, a professional singer from Hebron, Conn., and a long-time seasonal Island visitor, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) David Berube, a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and also for American Legion Post 257, offered an opening prayer.

“We are thankful we live in a land of freedom and great opportunity,” Lt. Col. Berube said. “On this day we are especially thankful for those who have made the supreme sacrifice in defense of those blessings and that freedom. We are humbled by their gift of absolute devotion on our behalf and we pray that we may always emulate their example in our daily service and citizenship.”

Boy Scout J.J. Polleys led everyone in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Ms. Murphy’s introduction of Commander (Cdr.) Brawley. Currently assigned to the Navy Office of Community Outreach, his unit serves as the central point for coordinating outreach programs throughout the continental U.S., involving Navy assets such as ships, the Blue Angels, Navy SEALs, and Navy bands. He will retire in June, after serving more than 23 years of active duty and reserve service.

“Together, we gather to remember America’s sons and daughters who sacrificed everything in the defense of our nation,” Cdr. Brawley said.

“Every Memorial Day, America is reminded of these selfless individuals, America’s quiet heroes,” he added. “We also think of America’s new generation of defenders, protecting the nation’s interests in every corner of the globe, preserving our freedoms and our way of life. They work for a more peaceful and hopeful world.”

In his civilian capacity, Cdr. Brawley is a Service Officer for the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services in the VA’s Providence Regional Office. He reminded the assembly that Memorial Day is not only a day to honor veterans who died in service and their families, but also to remember veterans and their families who are alive in our communities today.

“Every day in cities and towns across the Commonwealth and the nation, even after our veterans take off their uniforms, they never stop serving,” he noted. “Many apply the skills and experience they developed on the battlefield to a life of service here at home. They take on roles in their communities as doctors and police officers, engineers and entrepreneurs, and mothers and fathers.”

Cdr. Brawley said he is proud that Massachusetts leads the nation in providing benefits and services to veterans and their families. “The citizens of the Commonwealth spend more per capita on their veterans than any other state in the nation.”

At the conclusion of Cdr. Brawley’s remarks, Tony Peake played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.

Ms. Murphy noted that it was the 23rd Memorial Day that veterans and community volunteers had placed American flags, which numbered more than 450, along the cemetery’s Avenue of Flags in honor and memory of veterans. She said only one name, that of William P. Silvia, a deceased U.S. Army veteran of World War II, was added to the Avenue of Flags directory this year. Ms. Murphy then read the names of 32 Island veterans who had died since last Memorial Day.

The procession marched from American Legion Post 257 to the cemetery.
The procession marched from American Legion Post 257 to the cemetery.

Joe Gervais of West Tisbury concluded the solemn tribute by singing “If You’re Reading This,” a musical tribute to families of fallen soldiers by American country music artist Tim McGraw.

A wreath-laying ceremony followed. American Legion Post 257 Commander Vernon Oliver, American Legion Auxiliary president Carrie Welch, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) veteran Captain Gene De Felice, and Gold Star wife Renee Ortiz placed wreaths at the Avenue of Flags directory honoring those killed in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.

Retired Tisbury Fire Department assistant chief Russell Maciel laid a wreath at a memorial to first responders who died in the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001. Tisbury firefighter Jeff Pratt read “The Fireman’s Prayer.” ,American Legion member Edson Rodgers and Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling played “Taps” on trumpets, followed by a gun salute.

Tisbury fire chief John Schilling played Taps.
Tisbury fire chief John Schilling played Taps.

The ceremony concluded with remarks from veteran Staff Sgt. Michael Blake, U.S. Army.

“To me and a lot of other combat veterans here, Memorial Day is every day for us,” he said. “Every day we think about those we’ve lost, those we’ve served with, and things of that nature. What a lot of people are not aware of is that when we hang up the uniform, the fight’s not over for a lot of guys.

“I don’t know if anyone is aware,” he added, “but in our country 22 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day.”

Mr. Blake said next Saturday, May 30, he and a group of other veterans, military personnel, and first responders will participate in the second annual “Carry the Fallen,” a 26.2 mile rucksack march around a portion of the Vineyard as a fundraiser to help raise awareness of veterans’ suicides. The march begins at the Oak Bluffs VFW Post at 6:30 am and concludes there at 4 pm with a reception open to the public.

On the parade group’s return to the American Legion, past Post Commander Kevan Nichols laid a wreath at the Civil War Monument in the cemetery. He received assistance from his granddaughter, Aileen Mahoney, age 9, and grandson Seamus Mahoney, age 4, who live in Aquinnah with their parents Melissa and Jim Mahoney.

 

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Islanders will pay tribute to those who gave their lives in service to their country through school programs, a parade, and ceremony.

In this 2013 Times file photo, veteran Edson Rodgers plays the trumpet on Memorial Day. – File photo by Ralph Stewart

Martha’s Vineyard will honor Memorial Day with traditional ceremonies of remembrance. The events begin Friday in Island schools. On Monday, Memorial Day, Island veterans’ groups will hold an official ceremony at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Tisbury.

Tisbury School students will leave the school grounds for their traditional March to the Sea at 12:30 pm on Friday, May 22. They will march along Spring Street to Main Street and end at Owen Park. The community is invited to join them.

The students will toss flowers into the water from the dock in memory of those who died in war, and then gather around the flagpole at the top of Owen Park for a short ceremony. If it rains, the event will be held in the Tisbury School gymnasium.

In a similar observance, Edgartown School students will leave their school at 1 pm on Friday and march down Main Street. They will stop to lay flowers at the courthouse monuments, and then continue to Memorial Wharf for a program that includes patriotic music and readings. The public is invited to attend.

The guest speaker is Lt. Col. Fred “Ted” Morgan U.S.A. (Ret.), a World War II veteran and former Edgartown selectman for almost 30 years. At the program’s conclusion, seventh graders will toss flowers into Edgartown Harbor to honor veterans and those who died in wartime service.

The Chilmark School staff and students will take a bus at 9 am Friday to Dutcher Dock in Menemsha, where they will share information they know or have researched this week about Memorial Day. Afterward, student trumpeters Jack Lionette and Gordon Prescott will play “Taps” as their fellow students toss flowers into the harbor in memory of veterans.

Friday at 8:30 am, fifth-grade trumpeters and drummers will play “Taps” and “America,” marking the Oak Bluffs School’s Memorial Day community meeting. The event will be attended by Dukes County Director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy and a group of Island veterans. The meeting program will include presentations about Memorial Day by second graders, a tribute to Meverell “Mev” Locke Good Jr., one of the Island’s World War II veterans who died this year, and remarks by guest speaker Lt. Col. David Berube, the Oak Bluffs Police Department’s chaplain and a chaplain with the Massachusetts National Guard.

West Tisbury School will present a Memorial Day concert on Friday at 1:30 pm in the school gym. The concert will include full class performances, solos, duets, and a singalong. The band will play numerous pieces, including “The Marine Hymn” and “America,” under the direction of Ruth Scudere-Chapman. The concert will conclude with antiphonal rendering of “Taps” by two middle-school trumpet players, Meredith Carlomagno and Kieran Karabees. Parents, community members, veterans, active-duty military personnel and first responders are invited to attend.

Tisbury hosts parade, ceremony, and picnic

On Monday, Memorial Day, American Legion members will put up flags at the Oak Grove Cemetery starting at 7:30 am and take them down at 3 pm. Volunteers to help put up and take down the flags would be greatly appreciated, Ms. Murphy said.

At 10 am, members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars step off for a parade from American Legion Post 257, opposite Tisbury School, to the cemetery.

A brief ceremony follows at the Avenue of Flags, where wreaths will be placed to honor those killed in war and the terrorist bombings of Sept. 11, 2001. The guest speaker is Navy Reserve Commander Paul J. Brawley of the Navy Office of Community Outreach. His unit serves as the central point for coordinating outreach programs throughout the continental U.S., involving Navy assets such as ships, the Blue Angels, Navy SEALs, and Navy bands.

Also on Monday, Tisbury hosts a Memorial Day picnic open to everyone from noon to 4 pm on the grounds of the restored Tashmoo Spring Building, on West Spring Street off State Road. There is no rain date.

Those who attend are asked to bring a picnic lunch and lawn chairs or a blanket, and leave their dogs at home. Picnickers who bring hot dogs and hamburgers may have them cooked on a gas grill by a crew of volunteer cooks.

Entertainment includes live music provided by the Flying Elbows, supported by the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council, as well as outdoor games, pony rides, chalk art, rowboat rides, and tours of the Spring Building.

Picnicgoers are encouraged to take the bus, because parking is limited. Vineyard Transit Authority buses that travel from Vineyard Haven up the State Road route past West Spring Street will provide free transportation for picnicgoers to the Tashmoo overlook.

Moment of Remembrance

At 3 pm Monday, Americans nationwide have been asked to pause in silence for the National Moment of Remembrance, established by Congress to remember and honor those who gave their lives in service to their country.

 

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Long-serving commissioner John Thayer resigned last week, and newly elected Jeff Kristal declined his position for a FinCom seat.

The Tisbury Department of Public Works. – MV Times file photo

The defections from the Tisbury Board of Public Works (BPW) have continued following the angry departure of Chairman Leo DeSorcy, who resigned on April 27. Commissioners John Thayer and Jeff Kristal have also resigned. The five-member board is now down to Denys Wortman, serving as the new chairman, and George Balco.

Tisbury’s BPW was established through state legislation, and has operated since 1989 as an independent, elected board that oversees the town’s department of public works (DPW). At town meeting on April 14, however, voters approved an article put forth by the board of selectmen to place the DPW and its functions back under their control. The legislative process is expected to take about 18 months.

In offering his resignation, Mr. DeSorcy said the change approved at town meeting, coupled with frustration over ongoing issues and complaints from union employees, led to his decision. Mr. Thayer, a 23-year veteran on the BPW, told The Times in a phone conversation Monday that said he was in agreement with Mr. DeSorcy, and had decided there was no reason to continue to serve on the board, in light of the upcoming changes.

Although Mr. Thayer had planned to serve out his term in support of DPW Director Glenn Mauk, he said he called and discussed his decision to resign at the board’s May 11 meeting with Mr. Mauk, who understood.

“It’s not what I signed up to do,” Mr. Thayer said. “The idea that the selectmen can envision a change this dramatic for the town without coming up with even one aspect of the nuts and bolts of how it’s going to work or be put into place makes no sense to me.”

Mr. Thayer said town administrator John “Jay” Grande plans to hold a meeting every two weeks to discuss the BPW’s restructuring.

“What we had was a system that worked in place, and I’m not part of the transition team,” Mr. Thayer said. “I found what the selectmen did at town meeting to be shortsighted, because there’s no hurry and nothing in place to replace the board. Even though there is going to be an infrastructure meeting every two weeks, that’s not the same.”

Mr. Kristal was appointed to the BPW to fill a vacancy, and served for one year. Although he was elected to a three-year term at Tisbury’s town elections on April 28, he declined his appointment to the BPW.

“The idea of the board of public works and DPW coming under the selectmen was a discussion [Selectman] Tristan Israel and I had for years,” Mr. Kristal told The Times in a phone conversation yesterday. “Since I accomplished what I wanted, I decided not to accept my appointment to the BPW in order to serve on the FinCom.”

The selectmen and FinCom voted Tuesday night to appoint Mr. Kristal to a seat left vacant by FinCom Chairman Larry Gomez, who was elected a selectman.

“I think some of of my expertise lies in finances,” Mr. Kristal said. “As a former selectman, I know town department budgets inside and out, and my wife Jynell and I have run our own business for 18 years. I think my expertise, given that finance director Tim McLean will be retiring, might help with the town’s budget process, especially since most of the FinCom members are new. I’m here to help out in any way I can.”

The BPW vacancies will be filled through a joint appointment process by the selectmen and BPW, according to Mr. Grande.

 

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James Weiss predicts cost pressures will only grow in the future.

On behalf of the Oak Bluff School community, school committee member Kris O'Brien, right, presented superintendent of schools James Weiss with a gift basket of beach-related items to enjoy in his upcoming retirement, following his speech last week at a meeting sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Photo by Janet Hefler.

From buying toilet paper in bulk to pooling people resources, Superintendent of Schools James Weiss advocates more collaboration and shared responsibilities between Martha’s Vineyard schools to help offset growing educational costs. Mr. Weiss draws a clear distinction, however, when it comes to the “R” word.

“Over the years, there has been much talk about regionalization; it would be better, it would save money, there would be less overhead, et cetera,” Mr. Weiss said at a meeting held at Oak Bluffs School last week. “But schools are very personal institutions, personal to the local community and its culture. It’s so personal that there has really not been a movement on this Island in the direction of regionalization.”

A regional system would result in a loss of control or power for individual communities and would require a lot of give and take, Mr. Weiss added. “And while I agree that a regional system could save us money, I have to say that I don’t see that happening.”

Mr. Weiss shared his thoughts about the future of Martha’s Vineyard schools, and offered a blueprint for making improvements and achieving efficiencies and financial savings, in the second of five meetings sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV).

“Our final goal is to set up the new leadership in education on the Island with a core group of parents who would be supportive of what’s happening in education and what’s going forward,” LWV member and meeting moderator Judy Crawford said.

The audience of about 25 people who attended the May 7 Oak Bluffs meeting included a mix of teachers, parents, school board and School Advisory Committee members, town finance and advisory committee members, and administrators. Assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Matt D’Andrea, who will take the reins as new superintendent on July 1, and Oak Bluffs Principal Richie Smith, who will move into Mr. D’Andrea’s job, were among them.

 

No such thing as MVPS

“In my 46-year career as an educator, including 26 years as a school superintendent, this is clearly the best job I have ever had,” Mr. Weiss said at the start of his 45-minute speech. “It’s because Martha’s Vineyard is a special place, special in large part because of its people, and education is basically a people business. We have about 550 employees; we work with over 2,100 students. We’re fortunate to have six excellent schools — not perfect — but excellent just the same.”

As superintendent for the past decade, Mr. Weiss has overseen six Island schools and participated in 60 school budget processes. The superintendent’s shared-services budget, and five separate school budgets, add up to about $50 million to educate 2,100 students, he said.

Although the Island schools are commonly referred to as the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, Mr. Weiss said there actually is no such entity.

“What we have is superintendency’s union number 19, which includes the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury school districts, and two regional school districts, one for the up-Island towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury, and one for the Island-wide high school — five separate political entities,” he pointed out. “They come together once in awhile to hire and fire the superintendent, and develop a budget for our office.”

Mr. Weiss said in terms of finances, the superintendent’s office is a unique entity that operates a collaborative of its own, the shared-services program, which includes special education services as well as other programs provided to students Island-wide.

 

The pluses and minuses

Mr. Weiss praised the schools for their excellent teachers, high-performing students, wide-ranging curriculum and extracurricular activities, and vocational and special education programs.

“Each school continues to reflect its local community, holding true to the traditions that make it truly a special place,” he said.

In regard to current issues and problems, Mr. Weiss said with the exception of Edgartown School, buildings have not been well maintained. Although he has argued strongly over the past several years for adding a director of facilities management to the superintendent’s staff, the position did not survive budget cuts, and school buildings continue to suffer from a lack of maintenance.

“We don’t have a plan, a level of expertise, to handle all these issues,” Mr. Weiss said. “And as I always remind school principals, they are educational leaders first and building managers second.”

Mr. Weiss said another issue for him is that Island schools can be slow to realize safety issues, and that the Up-Island school district still lacks either a part-time or full-time school resource officer. He also is concerned that the regional high school is lagging behind some schools on the Cape by not expanding its world language program to include Mandarin, Russian, or Eastern European languages.

“As an aside, I want to go on record to say that Common Core and Massachusetts standards are extremely important, because no longer are our students just competing with kids in other states, they’re now competing with students internationally,” Mr. Weiss said. “However, in my own opinion, we do too much testing. We need to decide on that going forward. Some of it is not our choice, it’s the state’s choice, but there is too much testing in general.”

 

Collaboration vs. regionalization

Mr. Weiss said the idea of shared responsibilities and collaboration offers an option besides regionalization to address many of the issues and problems the schools face.

“You don’t have to do everything together in the same way, but where you can agree to do things together and save some money, you get the benefit both financially and educationally,” he said. “We need to work together more often, not just in crisis.”

For example, Mr. Weiss said, Edgartown, the Up-Island Regional School District, and the regional high school district combined their three school bus systems into one run by the high school, which saved more than $1 million in the first year. As another example, Mr. Weiss pointed to the Bridge Program, a collaborative special education program in the superintendent’s shared-services budget that serves students on the autism spectrum from towns Island-wide, sparing individual school districts the cost of staffing and running their own programs.

“At the Cape Cod Collaborative, it would cost $46,000 per student a year, and we do the same thing here for about $43,000 this year,” Mr. Weiss said. “And our kids don’t have to go over on a boat.”

Collaboration could work with something as simple as buying toilet paper, he said. Currently every school buys its own type and holders. If all the schools bought the same paper in bulk, the company would drop-ship it once, plus provide the holders or dispensers and come to the Island to install them, Mr. Weiss said.

Oak Bluffs FinCom member Steve Auerbach asked Mr. Weiss to clarify the distinction between collaboration and regionalization.

“Regionalization is when you’re forced to do things as one entity, and things get assessed,” Mr. Weiss said. “Collaboration and shared responsibilities for me means, you have a choice to make on a given issue. You can choose to share buses, toilet paper, whatever works for you and your community, rather than saying everyone has to do this.”

 

What lies ahead

Mr. Weiss said he believes Mr. D’Andrea and Mr. Smith “represent a wonderful leadership team for the Martha’s Vineyard schools.” He also warned them of some challenges they will face.

“The cost of education will continue to grow,” Mr. Weiss said “They have to learn to work with FinComs, selectmen, and voters in every town so that budgets don’t become a problem. And come November, they will have to do negotiations with five bargaining units.”

Mr. Weiss said they also will likely have struggles recruiting teachers and other educational professionals, and that state and federal mandates are not going to get any easier. Another challenge will be the need for universal preschool, as well as the need to provide quality programming for all students, he added.

“This will mean over the years they’re going to have to do more and more with less and less, and that’s a struggle,” Mr. Weiss said. “Collaborative work, shared responsibilities will help them get there. It is my hope you’ll support them.”

At the conclusion of his speech, the audience broke into three groups to discuss some possible shared responsibilities for Island schools. Suggestions included technical infrastructure and information technology; enrichment programs; and custodial and facility maintenance, painting and plumbing.

After a brief discussion of the groups’ ideas, Oak Bluffs School Committee member Kris O’Brien presented Mr. Weiss with a basket filled with beach-related items as a parting gift.

“You have held us together for a decade with your guidance, your leadership, your expertise and knowledge, and your vision, and mostly your care,” Ms. O’Brien said. “Thank you from all of us here for all those years, and good luck in your retirement.”

Mr. Weiss’s remaining speeches are scheduled on May 19 at the Edgartown School cafeteria, May 21 at the West Tisbury School cafeteria, and June 9 at the Chilmark Community Center. The LWV plans to continue to conduct a series of forums throughout this year and into 2016 with goals to inform Islanders about the current status of education management and organization, to encourage a dialogue in the community about ways to enhance school efficiencies and effectiveness, and to support Mr. D’Andrea as he begins work as the new superintendent.

For more information, contact a local school parent-teacher organization chairman, or LWV member Lolly Hand at 508-687-9955.

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Long-serving Leo DeSorcy leveled a blast at Tisbury selectmen and DPW union employees on his way out the door.

The Tisbury Department of Public Works. – MV Times file photo

Tisbury Board of Public Works (BPW) Chairman Leo DeSorcy resigned at the start of the board’s regular meeting Monday. Mr. DeSorcy said a decision by voters at town meeting last week to put the department of public works (DPW) back under the control of selectmen, coupled with frustration over ongoing issues and complaints from union employees, led to his decision.

“Fifteen years; I’ve had enough,” Mr. DeSorcy, a well-respected contractor, said, after he handed Vice Chairman John Thayer his two-sentence resignation letter. “I thank you, gentlemen. I just can’t listen to it anymore. I really can’t.”

Commissioners George Balco, Jeff Kristal, and Denys Wortman joined Mr. Thayer in thanking Mr. DeSorcy for his time. Since 1989, when it was established through state legislation, the Tisbury BPW has operated as an independent, elected board that oversees the town’s department of public works (DPW).

All that is about to change. On April 14, town meeting voters approved an article put forth by the board of selectmen to place the DPW and its functions back under their control. The legislative process is estimated to take about 18 months.

The revamped DPW would include refuse and recycling services, municipal building maintenance, highway and sidewalk maintenance, parks and recreation, cemetery maintenance and operations, wastewater operations, and special projects, under the selectmen’s management and direction. In addition to restructuring the DPW’s management, the selectmen would replace the elected BPW with an advisory board that they would appoint.

Selectmen Jon Snyder and Tristan Israel voted to approve the DPW warrant article at a special meeting on Feb. 25, during school vacation week. Selectman Melinda Loberg participated in the meeting by speakerphone from Colorado but was unable to vote. DPW Director Glenn Mauk and BPW commissioners were not present at the meeting.

The special meeting was called following a previous meeting, at which town officials and community members harshly criticized the DPW’s snow-clearing efforts after a massive January snowstorm.

In a Letter to the Editor published April 8, selectmen Jon Snyder, Melinda Loberg, and Tristan Israel urged voters to endorse the warrant article to enable them and town administrator Jay Grande, who serves as personnel director and chief procurement officer, to oversee and coordinate the DPW’s functions and personnel.

At Tisbury town meeting, Mr. Grande provided a lengthy PowerPoint in support of the change. Mr. DeSorcy and Mr. Thayer told voters they learned about the article to restructure the DPW from a reporter, without any notification or discussion with the selectmen.

Mr. DeSorcy argued that the article was incomplete, in that the selectmen had not offered any details as to how the DPW would be restructured, or the costs involved. A motion was made to table the article, but failed to achieve a two-third majority. The article was approved 124-67.

Disgusted with selectmen

Revisiting the issue Monday, the BPW commissioners said they felt blindsided by the selectmen’s action.

“I’m disgusted by how easily the townspeople were led to make that vote,” Mr. DeSorcy said Monday. “I’m ashamed of our selectmen, for how they presented it, with no when, whys, hows — we still know nothing. As a taxpayer I still don’t know who’s doing it, who’s paying for it, who’s going to administrate it.”

“I was pretty disgusted at the meeting and the fact that the selectmen never came to talk to us, to say can we work together, is there anything we can do,” Mr. Wortman added.

“No; there is merit in trying to improve something, but there is no merit in introducing something at town meeting where seven percent of our population goes,” Mr. DeSorcy said. “It’s like training a puppy dog, and it’s completely reactionary, as always, as opposed to someone actually thinking about who’s going to do it.”

Mr. DeSorcy predicted that the selectmen would end up having to hire one, if not two, additional employees, at $80,000 to $100,000 each, to handle the DPW duties.

“We saved the town so much money with getting rid of trash collection, a prime example,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars, lots of problems keeping our personnel down, and what do they do? We need another tax override … and we’re going to hire an IT [information technology] person.”

“So you’re saying you saw the town meeting vote as a town vote of no confidence in the commissioners?” Mr. Thayer asked.

“One hundred percent,” Mr. DeSorcy responded. “It would be my recommendation we all just leave, but I can only speak for myself. If the selectmen are so smart and they know how to do everything so well, they should start tomorrow. I would love to see that happen.

“And how many people would they have to hire to deal with just a fraction of what we do?” he added.

 

Fire 99 percent

Before Mr. DeSorcy tendered his resignation, he called the board’s attention to two photos of a broken street sign on William Street, recently repaired by a DPW employee. The one-way street sign had been sloppily refastened to its post using two pieces of scrap wood and U-bolt brackets that jutted out from the sign’s front.

“And it’s not like it’s on some back street — that’s in our historic district,” Mr. DeSorcy pointed out.

Mr. Thayer said he received the photos in a text from a William Street homeowner and forwarded them to Mr. Mauk, who went out and removed the sign at 7 pm that night.

“I really think the union people have managed to dumb their work level down to an excruciatingly low threshold of what’s acceptable,” Mr. Thayer said. “There are half a dozen people here, drawing $50,000 to $70,000 a year, plus overtime, plus benefits, who think this is actually the level they should be operating at. To me, this is a straight-up termination level. Whoever did this, I want to find out who it is and invite him to leave the department.”

Mr. Thayer said he has witnessed a “parade of obstruction” by union employees against Mr. Mauk since he began as director of the DPW about a year and a half ago. As of February, union employees had filed 15 separate grievances alleging union contract violations.

“And the selectmen and the people who write the municipal employee union contracts over and over again — welcome to what you’ve created,” Mr. Thayer said. “We’ve tried to enforce it, and it’s been miserable and really excruciating in the last year and a half. I’m actually relieved that this part of my day is going to go away at a certain time.”

Mr. DeSorcy said the DPW has a few good employees, but too many bad apples.

“I’m disgusted with the amount of complaints and all those union grievances, most of which a grown man should be ashamed of himself to have any of that ever come up,” he said. “The nuts are running this Island now. If only we had the ability to fire them all — or at least 99 percent of them. If they hate it so much, they should quit.”

 

Move forward

Mr. DeSorcy left the meeting. Mr. Thayer asked the other commissioners for their reactions.

“I can understand why Leo’s doing what he’s doing,” Mr. Balco said. “But at the same point in time, this won’t really solve anything. We have to go forward from here. And I do think, and I’ve expressed this in the past, that communication between us and all the other parts of town should be increased, and it’s very important.”

Mr. Kristal, a former selectman, said Mr. DeSorcy’s decision to resign was understandable but unfortunate.

“With Leo goes a lot of experience, not only from sitting on this board but also a lot of hands-on, mechanical engineering experience he has that this board will be missing,” he said. “I honestly don’t know if this town will ever recover from what just happened at town meeting. I think there’s going to be a huge learning curve for whoever comes in for the appointed board, which will delay things getting done.”

Mr. Wortman said he was sorry to see Mr. DeSorcy leave, and had considered it himself.

“We’re all lame ducks now, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to be appointed, and I won’t accept a position to the appointed board. Because the selectmen will be asking for our advice, I would think, but are they going to take it?”

Mr. Wortman suggested that if the selectmen really want to take over the DPW, “take it over, but be the front line. Don’t put this buffer in between that has no power.”

Mr. Thayer concurred with Mr. Wortman about serving on an appointed board whose advice the selectmen could disregard.

“I’m not sitting on that; we were actually solving problems for the town of Tisbury’s infrastructure,” he said.

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Uniform learning standards level the playing field for all students.

Katherine Scheidler signed copies of her book, "Standards Matter," following her presentation about Common Core state education standards at the Vineyard Haven Public Library on April 4. – Photo by Janet Hefler

Common Core State Standards are getting an undeserved bad rap, Katherine (Kay) Scheidler, author of a new book, Standards Matter, said. Ms. Scheidler spoke out in support of the high-quality learning associated with the standards, and dispelled what she said are some of the misconceptions at a book talk and signing on April 4 at the Vineyard Haven Public Library.

State education leaders and governors in 48 states worked together to develop the Common Core, a set of standards, not curriculum, in English language arts and literacy and mathematics. Ms. Scheidler’s book focuses on “the why and what of Common Core State Standards in reading and writing.”

The standards spell out the reading and math skills students should acquire, grade by grade, as they progress from kindergarten through high school. Common Core standards were designed as a set of uniform benchmarks to ensure that high school graduates from any state will learn the same skills and be ready to begin college without needing to take remedial classes.

Although state adoption of the standards is not mandatory, currently 43 states have voluntarily adopted them and are working to implement them. The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the Common Core standards in July 2010, and they became part of the state curriculum in 2011.

Leveling the playing field

The idea that common learning standards for all children are key to educational equity and fairness took root early in Ms. Scheidler’s teaching career. She said that tracking, the practice of grouping students by achievement level, was the norm when she started her first job as a student teacher at Hope High School in Providence in 1969. It was then she realized that having different standards for students of different levels was detrimental to those who weren’t at the top.

“The inequity of the top-track kids getting the best of education and the kids in the lower levels not getting the same quality of education has an awful lot to do with what Common Core standards are,” Ms. Scheidler said. “It’s a matter of taking the top-level kind of expectations and trying to get all kids to move to that level for equity and fairness.”

She takes issue with critics who argue that Common Core standards may “dumb down” learning for top-level students.

“The goal is really to take high-level standards and help kids grow to that level,” Ms. Scheidler said. “Instead of teaching and then giving a test that some kids pass and some kids don’t pass, it’s the idea of setting out and making it clear to kids what you want them to learn and trying to bring them up to that level.”

Ms. Scheidler discussed examples of high-level English projects she has observed and the Common Core standards that students learned, which included expository/argumentative writing; reading nonfiction text for information; evaluating visuals and text; reading complex text proficiently; producing clear and coherent writing; and engaging in peer review, revisions, and research. Common Core standards require that students use online and print sources, and document them, she added.

How Common Core evolved

Ms. Scheidler said that the move to establish education standards started in 1983, following a report from a national commission that cited “a rising tide of mediocrity” in its study of American schools. It came as a wake-up call to state governors and state commissioners of education, which led to a pledge by the governors in 1989 to establish standards and assessment tests in common.

In 2002, President George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act into law. It garnered criticism from many educators and lawmakers, who deemed the law’s requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 as unrealistic.

Changes in testing

Massachusetts is also in the middle of a two-year trial of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, under consideration as a replacement for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams.

Last spring Edgartown School, Tisbury School, West Tisbury School, and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School took part in field tests of the new PARCC tests online. Oak Bluffs School and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School used paper tests.

“When I first looked at MCAS tests, and saw what was expected in 10th grade, which was that every student was supposed to be able to take a piece of literature they read and write a literary analysis paper on it, I thought, Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every student could do that?” Ms. Scheidler said. “We didn’t quite get every student to proficient, which was the goal under No Child Left Behind by 2014, but we’ve moved kids along tremendously, just by having these standards and the vision. With Common Core, the standards are a bit more stringent and the tests a bit harder, but basically it’s the same idea.”

Common Core and PARCC protests

Common Core standards recently have become a hot-button topic in the looming 2016 presidential race, Ms. Scheidler noted. Some critics on the political right are denouncing Common Core as representing a federal takeover of school curriculum, which she said is false, because the state-led initiative leaves curriculum decisions under state and local control.

The standards are, however, technically tied to federal money. A competitive grant program for schools, the Race to the Top Fund (RTTF), was funded by the U.S. Department of Education through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. President Barack Obama linked RTTF grant money to states’ adoption of higher academic standards, without naming Common Core specifically.

As one of 12 winning states in the RTTF program, Massachusetts received a grant of $250 million to promote reform in the K-12 education system’s standards and assessment, teachers, and leaders, school improvement, and data systems. Island school districts in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury, as well as the high school and Up-Island regional districts, applied for and received RTFF allocations totaling $118,129 over four years.

In the backdrop of political debate over Common Core are widespread protests in several states, which started in March, against the standards-aligned tests created by the PARCC consortium.

“The PARCC tests that are happening right now in the Vineyard schools are really assessments,” Ms. Scheidler said. “They’re not standardized tests like the old IQ tests or Iowa tests, where a test comes in from nowhere just to sort of peg a kid. They’re called criterion-reference tests, and you set a standard, and let the public know, the kids know, and the teachers know that, and what you’re teaching it for. It’s a way to assess where kids are, and to use that information to bring them along.”

Unfortunately, that difference has not been well-publicized, Ms. Scheidler said. Over the past few months, a huge opt-out movement against the tests has been promoted in several states on social media and on websites such as the Common Core Forum in Massachusetts.

“I haven’t gone to the website, because in a way, I don’t want to see it, because it hurts me enough to see negative things about the wonderful expectations and visionary Common Core standards and the assessments to help kids move along,” Ms. Scheidler said.

She concluded her presentation by answering questions from the small audience, which included several teachers, followed by a book signing.

As an adjunct instructor at Framingham State University, Ms. Scheidler teaches about understanding Common Core standards and their integration into curriculum and instruction. In addition to teaching at the high school and college level, her background includes 15 years as Massachusetts assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and also professional development, in Hopkinton and Canton.She holds a Ph.D. from Boston University’s School of Education, a graduate degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a masters of arts in teaching English from Brown University, and a B.A. in English and International Relations from The American University. Ms. Scheidler and her husband Peter are residents of Providence, R.I., and Vineyard Haven.

Standards Matter: The Why and What of Common Core Standards in Reading and Writing is available for $12.95 from the publisher, NewSouth Books, and Amazon.

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The rising cost of operating the undersize wastewater treatment plant falls on a limited number of users.

Tisbury Main Street businesses can expect to see their wastewater fees increase.

More than a decade ago, and following years of often heated debate, Tisbury built the town’s first municipal sewer system. Reacting to concerns that the new system would spur development and growth, Tisbury purposely built a wastewater treatment plant with limited capacity.

The decision to hobble the town’s capacity to treat wastewater meant that the cost would be spread among a limited number of users.

Now users complain that fees — up 95 percent in two years — place an unfair burden on a limited number of businesses and organizations, and that the cost of operating in Tisbury will impact the town’s commercial base and efforts to develop affordable housing.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) fiscal year 2016 (FY16) sewer enterprise-fund budget, approved as part of the department’s budget at town meeting, included a 30 percent increase in sewer use fees — from 3 cents per gallon to 3.9 cents per gallon in the next fiscal year.

That follows an increase from 2 cents per gallon in FY14 to three cents in FY15, a 50 percent increase. In total, the FY16 increase represents a 95 percent hike since FY14.

Killing numbers

For the Mansion House, an anchor hotel at the foot of Main Street, the increase translates into more than $50,000.

“So in real numbers, it takes our sewer bill and jumps it from $48,000 to over $102,000 a year,”Joshua Goldstein, a manager in his family’s business, told voters at town meeting last week.

“How can we justify such a huge expense?” he added. “It’s killing the businesses in the town.”

Mr. Goldstein warned that the proposed sewer user fee increase already was impacting decisions by business owners about whether to stay in Tisbury, or move to Oak Bluffs or Edgartown, where rates are lower. He said one of the Mansion House’s business tenants plans to move out next year because of the continuing increases.

“What can we do to lower our costs so our town can remain vibrant?” Mr. Goldstein asked. “Because with the costs that are in this budget, our town cannot continue to thrive, my family’s business cannot continue to thrive, and I would ask you to make changes so that we can continue to make Vineyard Haven vibrant year-round.”

DPW Director Glenn Mauk said an oversight of $25,000 that should have been included in the FY16 sewer enterprise-fund budget was discovered following a Board of Public Works (BPW) public hearing on April 6. Based on the new budget total, Mr. Mauk said, “We’ll probably seek to lower the increase after this town meeting, by way of public hearing, to 3.75 cents.”

Nonetheless, he added, “From last year to this year, we have $100,000 less in free cash from money that was built into the fund to operate the plant, and I think what’s happening here is that for many years the plant was underfunded.”

Penny-wise

Tisbury’s sewer district includes all of the downtown Vineyard Haven area, from Main Street, starting around the former Le Grenier Restaurant, to the Lagoon Pond drawbridge. The wastewater collection system and treatment facility is located at the DPW facility on High Point Lane. It was designed to serve a mix of about 135 commercial and residential properties, former DPW director Fred LaPiana previously told The Times. He said about 60 to 70 percent of those are businesses.

“The system we built was cobbled together on town meeting floor more than a dozen years ago to satisfy people who didn’t want to build it at all,” BPW Commissioner George Balco told The Times in a phone call last week. “I remember commenting as FinCom chairman that it was too small. We made the smallest, most expensive system we could make, and now people are saying, My God, this is the smallest, most expensive system. No one listened to our opinion.”

Voters subsequently agreed to split the construction costs of the “growth neutral” sewer system 50/50 between the town and users. The state approved $6.4 million of zero-interest revolving-fund financing in October 2000.

Property owners who wanted to hook up to the system applied to the town sewer-flow review board, which assigned sewage-flow rates. Sewer betterment fees were assessed to Vineyard Haven businesses beginning in November 2008.

User fees are calculated on the number of gallons of water used, not on the actual volume of flow that goes into the wastewater treatment plant.

The Steamship Authority (SSA) recently built a new pump-out facility for its ferries that is tied into the town sewer system in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Balco said the SSA paid for its infrastructure, and does not have a betterment fee, but does pay user fees.

Feeling the pinch

On April 6, one week prior to town meeting, the BPW held a public hearing to discuss the proposed DPW budget and new sewer user rates. The system’s 110 users received notices by mail.

Mansion House co-owners Sherman and Susan Goldstein sent out a letter of their own to other Vineyard Haven business owners, urging them to attend the hearing. Twelve people, including Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein and their son Joshua, attended the hearing, along with BPW Commissioners George Balco, John Thayer and Denys Wortman. BPW Chairman Leo DeSorcy and Commissioner Jeff Kristal were absent.

“My question to the commissioners was, What are you going to do about it; who’s going to lead the change that’s going to be required?” Ms. Goldstein said in a phone conversation with The Times two days later. “Each of them said the plant is too small, and it will get more and more expensive to operate.”

J.B. Blau leases space in the Mansion House, where he operates the popular Copper Wok restaurant, one of Main Street’s only year-round restaurants. He also owns and operates the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co. and Sharky’s restaurants in Oak Bluffs, and Sharky’s in Edgartown. Mr. Blau said he pays two to three times more for sewer services in Tisbury than in the other two Island towns.

“It is an extreme difference, and with a near 33 percent increase about to go through, plus inevitable future increases, it is an amount that would prevent us from being able to consider anything in town in the future, unfortunately,” Mr. Blau wrote in an email to The Times. “And as our lease ends, we would need to seriously consider the expense when deciding to stay or leave.”

Mr. Blau said Tisbury’s exorbitant sewer fees, coupled with its limited beer and wine licenses, make Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, which offer lower fees and full liquor licenses, more attractive at this time, especially for a company trying to maintain year-round operations.

“We have loved our short time in Vineyard Haven, but the more we learn about these out-of-whack expenses and their pending increases, the less likely we would be able to remain in town in the future,” he said. “Or, as an alternative, we would have to look for a location that is not hooked up to the town sewer.”

High sewering costs also affect the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, Executive Director David Vigneault pointed out at the hearing. He told the BPW that the ancillary impacts of the sewer user-fee increase on services such as affordable housing were significant, and at cross-purposes with other town goals.

“For example, the proposed rate increases — a 95 percent total increase when coupled with last fall’s — would double to $6,000 our sewer fees for four apartments on Lagoon Pond,” Mr. Vigneault said in an email to The Times. “That equals our full budgeted amount for all utilities at that property, with no recourse to raising rents due to original funding restrictions. That means that other affordable rental properties in town and elsewhere will have to subsidize those units.”

No economy of scale

In separate phone conversations with The Times last week, Mr. Balco, Mr. Thayer, and Mr. Wortman all said one of the biggest drawbacks with Tisbury’s 110,000-gallon wastewater treatment plant is that it cannot achieve the economies of scale that Oak Bluffs, which operates a 400,000-gallon plant, and Edgartown, with a 750,000-gallon plant, can.

“The trouble is, the wastewater stream that’s running through there has been flat, basically,” Mr. Balco said.

And since the plant has to operate 24/7; it can’t just be shut down at times when the flows are lower than they are in the summer.

“If we could get more flow through the system, we wouldn’t have to increase the number of employees; basically, that would just help lower the rate,” Mr. Wortman said.

Also, if the sewer system is expanded, adding more users would spread the operating costs over a larger base, Mr. Balco said.

At town meeting two years ago, voters approved borrowing $990,000 to install a new wastewater leaching system and make upgrades to increase capacity at the wastewater treatment plant. The purpose was to allow for B-2 business properties to hook up to the system, provided they install a pipe for the connection, to reduce the nitrogen level in Lake Tashmoo. The new system is not in use yet.

Voters at town meeting last week, however, shot down an article that would have authorized funding for design and engineering services to extend the sewer system from 82 Main Street to Greenwood Avenue. The extension was intended to address a failing septic system at the Vineyard Haven Public Library and to allow the tie-in of a boat pumpout facility at Owen Park.

Selectmen Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg, however, argued in favor of waiting and doing more planning.

The BPW is hamstrung in that it cannot set regulations or policy, Mr. Thayer said. “The business owners have to understand there’s nothing I can do — I’m balancing a budget operated by an enterprise fund,” he added.

Mr. Balco and Mr. Wortman both said they believe it might be time for the town to consider funding some of the wastewater treatment plant’s operating expenses with taxpayer money.

“We really like to keep it as cheap as we can for the users, but it’s an enterprise system, so it has to pay for itself,” Mr. Wortman said. “If we wanted to change it over and put some on the tax rate, we could lower the cost to each user. But then people who don’t use it would be paying for it. Let’s say you put $50,000 of that on the tax rate. That would help the users, but would the general public really want that?”

In the meantime, Mr. Wortman said, the BPW will continue to look for possible ways to save money in operating the wastewater plant.