Authors Posts by Nis Kildegaard

Nis Kildegaard

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1. Missed Opportunities

Anyone trying to understand the recent dispute over naming opportunities at the new Edgartown Public Library, without knowing the history behind it, has my sympathy.

On the face of it, we have the Edgartown Library Foundation trying to do what public libraries have been doing here and across the nation for years: recognize donors whose support goes far above and beyond their property tax dollars. Yet when the foundation asked the selectmen to approve an entirely reasonable policy for accepting major gifts, the board replied with a written statement: “At this time the selectmen do not wish to entertain any policies regarding naming rights.”

This is in the town whose present library is named after the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who donated $4,000 a century ago to build it, a library in whose entryway hangs a portrait of Caroline Osborne Warren, donor of the land beneath it.

This is in the town next-door to West Tisbury, whose library publishes a list of naming opportunities right on its municipal website — and half a million dollars’ worth of them have already been snapped up by donors.

What’s the story here? To be blunt, it goes something like this: Once upon a time, about seven years ago, the Edgartown Library Foundation and library trustees asked Edgartown to buy the Warren House property adjoining the Carnegie library, declaring that if taxpayers kicked in $3.5 million for that purchase, they’d build a new library without another penny of town money. That plan imploded when the foundation couldn’t raise the funds and the project’s cost estimate jumped by a million bucks.

Edgartown then went back to the drawing board and crafted a library plan without a penny of foundation money — selling the Warren House property and using the site of the town’s derelict 1924 elementary school. After voters backed this plan at town meeting, here comes the Edgartown Library Foundation, proposing to hang plaques over doorways honoring donors who give more than $25,000 in support of the new project.

The only way to understand the selectmen’s resistance to this idea is in the context of this recent history. It’s their way of saying to the foundation: Folks, you had your chance to build your library, but this is our library now, built by We the People, and keep your naming paws off of it.

This is understandable, in a way, but also sad. Libraries everywhere have found gracious ways to accept those extra, above-and-beyond gifts without cheapening themselves. But until there’s some reconciliation between town hall and the library foundation, the guess here is that the Edgartown selectmen will persist in leaving good money on the table rather than accept the foundation’s offer of help.

2. Roundabouts, Before & After

Now that the Vineyard’s anti-roundabouters have gasped their last political gasp and, we dearly hope, expended the last wad of our taxpayer dollars in efforts to stop the project, only one question remains: Whatever was all the fuss about?

Digging in the traffic engineering literature this week, I discovered that our community’s fevered dispute over the roundabout turns out to be not unusual at all.

The most to-the-point study I found, published recently in the Institute of Traffic Engineers Journal, looked at three communities — in Kansas, Nevada and Maryland — where intersections controlled by stop signs were replaced by modern roundabouts.

In their field surveys, the researchers found that modern roundabouts reduced vehicle delays and traffic congestion in all three cases. In their telephone surveys, they found that in every case, most people opposed the roundabouts before construction and favored them afterwards. Almost half the drivers who had opposed the roundabouts, even strongly, later said they’d changed their opinion and now favored them.

So here’s a bit of good news for those of you who took to the battlements to stop the Oak Bluffs roundabout, and lost: There’s an even chance that once it’s been in place for a year, you’ll agree that it’s an improvement.

I’ll try not to say I told you so.

3. Returns on Investment

As a geeky kid, I thought it odd that made-up stories were labeled “fiction” while factual books were called “nonfiction.” The negative prefix, it seemed to me, was attached in the wrong place.

Now I feel the same twinge of linguistic umbrage at the word “nonprofit,” which sounds like a dismissive term for enterprises whose work is valuable for its own sake, not merely as a way to generate money for stockholders. Caring for our children, our sick and elderly; protecting our historic villages and natural environment; creating housing opportunities that ensure the future viability of the Vineyard — the only way any of these enterprises can be called unprofitable is if you insist on looking at them from the narrow standpoint of the investor who tallies the dollars in his portfolio every day.

If your idea of a sound investment, rather, is one whose dividends involve a better quality of life on Martha’s Vineyard, you’d do well to set aside today’s stock tables and peruse the comprehensive list of Island nonprofits on the website of the MV Donors Collaborative (mvdonors.org). Whether your passion is for arts, education, conservation, agriculture, health, housing, or human services, you’ll find dedicated and urgently needy nonprofits at work here in your favorite arena.

July and August are make-or-break times for the nonprofits of the Island. Almost all of them schedule major events which, together with their annual appeals and the funds they generate from their services, will help keep them at their important work for another year. That at least is the hope for the Island nonprofits whose directors cross their fingers each year for good weather on the day of their summer dinners and auctions, water tastings and golf tournaments.

Whether the gifts you can give involve time or money, this is a great time of year to remember the organizations whose work helps make the Vineyard the place we love so dearly, to get involved, and to be generous.

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David Gergen, the distinguished former advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, will speak July 26 on the political landscape in this election year. — Photo courtesy of Summer Institute

The Summer Institute began 15 years ago as a July 4 celebration organized by Stanley Snider and the late Arthur Wortzel at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.

Mr. Snider, a developer of resort communities from Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont to Mattakesett in Edgartown, had worked with Mr. Wortzel (then president of the congregation) raising funds to build the new temple on Center Street in Tisbury. “Arthur was a great man,” recalls Mr. Snider, “and we had such a good time together. We had the Fourth of July coming up, and I said hey, this is a very important holiday – let’s do a celebration here that really amounts to something.”

That 1997 event featured Alan Dershowitz, Jemima James, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, and the NAACP Choir – and its success got Mr. Snider thinking. He and Mr. Wortzel decided to mount a series of summer lectures, soon broadening the program to include brunch with patrons on the morning after, and the Summer Institute was born.

Mr. Snider chaired the Summer Institute committee in its early years. He was followed by Carole Cohen, then Betsy Sheerr, and since last year the program has been chaired by Geraldine (Gerri) Alpert.

“Each new chairman has added depth,” says Mr. Snider. “I get a kick out of seeing that the Summer Institute apparently was a good idea, because we have so many patrons who are willing to support it now, and the programs have a great attendance.”

This year’s Summer Institute presents eight Sunday evening movies and seven speakers from the front lines of politics and economics, beginning at 7:30 pm this Thursday, July 5, with journalist and author Jeffrey Toobin, the nation’s leading authority on the Supreme Court. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more timely speaker for this moment, in the aftermath of the high court’s historic ruling on President Obama’s health care reform.

In fact, if you tried to list the questions in the forefront of national debate in this election year, you’d likely come up with something resembling the Summer Institute’s 2012 lineup.

Jared Bernstein, former director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class for the Obama administration, will speak July 12 on “Competing Visions about the Role and Size of Government.” Mr. Bernstein, the author of numerous books, is the man who gave us the phrase “YOYO economics,” meaning “you’re on your own,” as a way to talk about attempts to dismantle regulations and the social safety net.

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, will speak July 19 on how new technologies are changing the future of privacy. David Gergen, the distinguished former advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, will speak July 26 on the political landscape in this election year.

Journalist Robin Wright, author of seven books on the Middle East, will speak August 2. Her talk, in a reference to her latest book, is entitled, “Rock the Casbah: The Middle East in Turmoil.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind’s topic for August 9 is “Hard Lessons: The Evolution of Barack Obama.” His latest best-seller, “Confidence Men, Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” was simply described by The New Yorker as “the book on Barack.”

Another Pulitzer-winner, Daniel Yergin, will conclude the speaker series on August 16 with a talk entitled “The Quest: The Future of Energy.” His latest book, “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World,” has been hailed by critics as “the book you must read to understand the future of our economy and our way of life.”

Over the years, the Summer Institute has grown, but the basic format has endured, and the engine that drives it is the support of its donors – patrons who contribute at least $1,000 each season for reserved seating in the Hebrew Center hall and admission to the brunches with speakers on the mornings after.

Many Summer Institute donors have been involved since the very beginning, says program administrator Joleen King, and a sense of community has grown up around the summer series: “We had our first film on June 24, with 150 attendees, and one of my staff told me afterwards that one of our donors came in the door, looked around and said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad to be here – it’s like coming home.'”

Gerri Alpert, chairman of the Summer Institute, says her own involvement began as a donor, enjoying the programs and making new friends. “Someone invited me to one of the brunches a few years ago,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know much about the Summer Institute then. I met some of the donors there, and we started coming to the programs, which we thought were great – and we made a lot of friends. In fact, I would say that the majority of our friends on the Island now are donors.”

In Mr. Snider’s view, this community-building is one of the most important aspects of the Summer Institute: “Once you attend a few programs and get to know some of the people, it starts to make a difference. You know, I’ve been in the vacation home business for 45 years. People come up to me and ask me for advice, and I say: Don’t buy the building, buy the community. Community is what it’s all about – people don’t want to just sit on the front porch and look out at the scenery. They want to have relationships with others, and the Summer Institute has made that possible to a great degree.”

Given the lineup of speakers this summer, Ms. King expects one of the hardest parts of her job will be dealing with sold-out houses at the Hebrew Center on Thursday nights. “I’m going to have the problem all summer, I’m afraid, of having to turn people away from a packed house. The doors open at 6:45 p.m., and we don’t sell tickets in advance.”

All Summer Institute programs begin at 7:30 pm. Admission is a suggested donation of $15 for Thursday forums, $10 for Sunday films. Information on the programs is available at www.mvsummerinstitute.com.

Mr. Kildegaard, a regular contributor to the Martha’s Vineyard Times, is publicist for the 2012 Summer Institute.

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Peter Boak. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

The Island Community Chorus sings three concerts every year. Arguably the most magical of them comes on the evening when we in the choir mark the end of another 10 months of singing together, just as the Island’s summer community begins their season here.

At the Tabernacle on Saturday evening, June 30, we’ll look out from the stage into a hall filled with summer families fresh off the ferries. We’ll sing our best for them, and afterwards we’ll say our goodbyes to fellow choristers we’ve rehearsed with every Monday night since last September, disbanding until after Labor Day – while in the audience, folks are saying their hellos, reconnecting with old friends at the opening of their Island time together.

“It’s like a passing of the torch, isn’t it?” says Peter Boak, director of the Community Chorus.

Mr. Boak says that for him, part of the magic is the Tabernacle itself, a venue that has echoed with music at the heart of the Campground since 1879.

“Performing at the Tabernacle is like coming home,” he says. “It really hit me this year, because it’s the first time I’ve attended a high school graduation there. To see the kids walking into the Tabernacle — there’s a certain magic about it. I feel the same way when the Chorus takes the stage to sing: it’s like being embraced by something that’s been there since before our lifetimes, this place so full of memories, and now it’s continuing to make new memories for everybody.”

Robert Cleasby arrived on Monday for his 22nd year as program director for the Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association, just in time for the Island Chorus’s rehearsal at the Tabernacle. Opening the association’s program season with the Chorus has become a tradition, and Mr. Cleasby likes it that way.

“The Chorus is special because it’s Islanders, first of all,” Mr. Cleasby says. “These are Island artists performing together. And the setting is one-of-a-kind. Where else do you get an ambience and acoustics like the Tabernacle? Nowhere.”

Mr. Cleasby’s off-season home is in Pawtuxet, R.I., on the southern outskirts of Providence. There, he was artistic director and conductor of the West Bay Chorale and Orchestra in Warwick for 18 years. And each summer on the Island, he still serves as director of the Tabernacle Choir. So he has a special admiration for Peter Boak and his work with a community choir that requires no auditions, only the promise of regular attendance at rehearsals.

“A non-audition chorus is able to bring people in who love to hear singing, and would like to try it,” Mr. Cleasby says, although it does pose special challenges for the director. He observes with a laugh, “Peter has a remarkable amount of hair, for somebody who could have torn his hair out.”

Mr. Boak selects this concert program with an eye to the festive setting and to the Independence Day holiday. “I like to think of this as more of a pops concert — not that it’s watered-down music, but it’s music for the Fourth of July weekend, lighter and more entertaining,” he says.

The concert promises a mix of music familiar and new, patriotic and just plain fun – from Gilbert & Sullivan to Irish folksongs and even a rousing gospel number. At this opening event of the season, there’s no set admission charge; a free-will offering will benefit the Chorus and the Campmeeting Association.

It’s the perfect program, at the perfect time and in the perfect place, says Mr. Cleasby. “It’s the beginning of the summer, the kickoff event for us, and the Tabernacle was designed acoustically for groups like this. It’s the perfect venue for the Island Community Chorus, and we love to highlight indigenous Island music on the Campground.”

Island Community Chorus in concert at the Tabernacle, directed by Peter Boak and accompanied by L. Garrett Brown, at 8 pm, Saturday, June 30. A free will offering will be taken.

Nis Kildegaard is a regular contributor to the Times and a six-year singer in the choir.

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Last month, after my column on the Vineyard Transit Authority was published here, I was struck by the vehemence of one online poster who lambasted our regional bus service as a source of traffic congestion and air pollution and an assault on American free enterprise. He turned out to be the manager of an Island taxi company.

I realize, on reflection, that it can’t be fun to stand by your van watching streams of ferry passengers walk past your proffered $24 ride to Edgartown, choosing the $3 VTA bus instead.

That taxi driver’s lament got me wondering, as I began researching a column on the 20th annual Cross-Island Hike of the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank: who might the Land Bank’s natural enemies be?

Before there was a Land Bank, some real estate brokers saw their incomes threatened by the agency’s two percent fee on most Island property transactions. As it turns out, the Land Bank hasn’t hurt the brokers, so you won’t find many enemies there.

But, if you’re the owner of property that was an exclusive enclave until the Land Bank swooped in to give the public access, you can be doubly resentful. First, because you fear a threat to the enjoyment of a place you’ve had to yourself. Second, because this prospect forces you to admit that you’re not the egalitarian lover of humanity you like to think you are.

So, here’s my guess: today’s natural enemies of the Land Bank are abutters who have a high opinion of their own liberal principles and morality, but are confronted with an aspect of themselves they’d rather not acknowledge when the Land Bank moves in.

The rationalizations for abutters’ exclusionary impulses can be pretty creative. James Lengyel, director of the Land Bank since 1989, says the agency hears protestations of property exceptionalism all the time: “Oh, this property is so unique, it’s different from anything you’ve ever managed before, and it can’t handle the public use.”

But the Land Bank, which has been lauded by the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs for its “long tradition of high-quality stewardship on the Vineyard,” hasn’t made many missteps with the 3,000 acres in its care.

On Saturday, June 2, as rains of Tropical Storm Beryl were buffeting the Vineyard, more than two dozen people convened early at Wilfrid’s Pond Preserve in Tisbury for the Land Bank’s 20th annual Cross-Island Hike. Mr. Lengyel has walked in every one since the event’s founding in 1993; this year he was the “caboose” hiker, trailing the pack to be sure no one was left behind on the 18-mile trek to Katama.

In 1993, he recalls, “We had learned that National Trails Day was being promoted. Conservation organizations were being encouraged to come up with events. And the logical event to hold was some sort of litter clean-up or path tune-up.

“But what we wanted was to do two things: to encourage people to experience the beauty of the Island and to see how things stitched together. John Potter, our land superintendent at the time, said that in Weston, where he grew up, every year there was a cross-town hike. We said, why don’t we have a cross-Island hike? And that was that.”

Bill Veno, senior planner at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and trails guru for the Land Bank (which pays one quarter of his salary), has been organizing and leading the Cross-Island Hike for 15 of its 20 years. In recent years, he’s planned walks that begin where the previous year’s hike concluded.

Finding new cross-Island routes isn’t terribly hard. The Land Bank has some 130 miles of trails in its care when you include the town paths, easements, and ancient ways it also maintains across the Island.

The Land Bank published a new map a few weeks ago, and it’s worth asking for at the agency’s Edgartown office (or your local library), because it includes lots of outdoor opportunities not listed on the 2008 edition. One of them is Felix Neck Preserve, 25 acres adjoining the eponymous wildlife sanctuary, which the Land Bank bought in 2003 but didn’t open for public enjoyment until this year.

My wife and I discovered Felix Neck Preserve two months ago, on a walk along the Boulevard in Edgartown. The Land Bank had quietly taken down the No Trespassing signs, opening the trails without fanfare or press releases. It turns out this approach to opening properties is a Land Bank policy, not an accident.

“We very seldom announce the opening of a property,” says Mr. Lengyel. “We just let it be discovered.

“There’s a practical consideration – we want people to slowly come to understand the availability of these properties. But the larger consideration is the thrill of stumbling across something, seeing that you’re welcomed, seeing that it’s organized, but still just finding it serendipitously.”

It’s not like the Land Bank is keeping its treasures secret. The agency’s map is published by the thousands and is widely available. But still, one defining quality of Land Bank properties is that you have to seek them out. And when you do, you’ll be richly rewarded.

“The Land Bank tries not to have very many drive-in experiences,” Mr. Lengyel says. “You have to want to achieve them.”

So here’s my prescription for relief from the crowds and traffic of the next four months: Pick up a Land Bank map, pack a bottle of water and head for the hills, at Tiasquam Valley Reservation in Chilmark or Wompesket Preserve in West Tisbury, at Quammox Preserve in Edgartown or Pecoy Point Preserve in Oak Bluffs. You might walk for two hours and meet only a couple of other hikers. You’ll definitely find the place as beautiful as its name.

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Senior Amalie Tinus rehearses her solo performance. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

“Saints & Sinners:” It’s the perfect title for the 45th anniversary program of the Minnesingers, this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Performing Arts Center (PAC).

The elite high school choir, created in the spring of 1967 by Tom Mills, became a show choir in 1975, early in Robert Nute’s defining 27-year tenure as director. Janis Wightman, who started with the Minnesingers as their accompanist in 1998 and took over as director in 2006, puts it simply: “The Minnesingers show choir as we know it today is certainly Bob Nute’s legacy.”

Ever since 1975, the Minnesingers’ spring program has had a dual aspect: The concert begins with the choir arrayed on the risers in tuxedos and dresses, singing music from the heart of the choral repertoire. After a quick costume change, the Minnesingers re-emerge, transformed into a song-and-dance troupe that reliably brings down the house.

For the generations of proud parents who attend these programs, it’s always a bit of a wild emotional ride: First, we sigh with satisfaction at the sight of our little angels so neatly groomed, so attentive to their director and singing so sweetly together. Then, we gasp at the sheer hormonal energy as they shake – well, pretty much everything – in the dance performance that follows.

Ms. Wightman has made this contrast the central dynamic of the Minnesingers’ anniversary show. It begins with an ambitious performance of classics, which recapitulate the history of choral music from the middle ages to the present day. The dance program that follows is organized around the seven deadly sins, with numbers exploring each one, from anger and gluttony to lust and greed, sloth, envy, and pride.

We sat in on the Minnesingers’ first tech run-through last Thursday night, May 10 – Ms. Wightman calls it “our first stumble-through” – and even with the stumbling, it held the promise of another blockbuster spring program for the show choir.

The choral program opens with the deceptively simple two-part harmonies of a medieval piece, John Dunstable’s “O Rosa Bella,” and skates through the centuries to finish with the hauntingly polyphonic Eric Whitacre composition, “Water Night.” When 27 voices break into 14 separate parts, it’s a goosebumps moment that you don’t want to miss.

The dance program, choreographed by Lianna Loughman, opens with a high-octane hip-hop number, “Nobody’s Listening,” featuring solos by senior Chris Pitt and junior Julia Cooper, and accelerates from there. With five of the dance numbers backed by a live band featuring drummer Noah Stuber, guitarist Alistair Morgan, and bassist Avery Lazes, the PAC will definitely be rocking.

This program will be the curtain call for six Minnesingers who are off to college in the fall. Haley Hewson, Alyssa Laslovich, Chris Pitt, Amalie Tinus, Ian Tripp and Anna Yukevich will be taking their final bows as Minnesingers, and five of them will also be taking solo turns in their last program with the show choir.

In the weeks after graduation, Ms. Wightman will hold a round of auditions for the 2012-2013 Minnesingers. She expects perhaps 50 candidates to participate in the try-outs, and with only six seniors leaving, she knows the competition will be fierce.

But keeping the group small, Ms. Wightman says, is part of what makes the Minnesingers the Minnesingers: “This is a premier group. I think we all feel, kids included, that the sense of an elite performing group is better fostered with smaller numbers.”

The first tech run-through, with barely more than a week remaining until showtime, is always a little scary, Ms. Wightman admits.

“I’d be worried if they were perfect right now, because they’d be peaking too early. Would I like it to be all memorized and ready to perform? Sure. But it’s never been that way. Never in 14 years. It’s always in the week before I’m saying, ‘Oh my God, are we ever going to pull this off?’ And I have to have people tell me, ‘yes.'”

The bottom line for Janis Wightman, clearly, is her pride in the Minnesingers. They’re a talented, hard-working group, whose members excel not only onstage but in the classroom and in the high school’s sports arenas – this year’s choir includes student-athletes on the softball, basketball, ice hockey, and track teams. “I just admire their ability to balance everything,” she says, “— work and school and athletics, college applications, pressures from home — everything.”

Looking ahead to this weekend’s show, she concludes: “Are they going to be perfect? No, I can’t remember when we’ve ever had a perfect performance. Are they going to be good, and enjoy themselves, and is the audience going to absolutely love it? Yes.”

“Saints & Sinners,” the 45th anniversary program of the Minnesingers, 7 pm, Saturday, May 19, and 3 pm, Sunday, May 20, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center, Oak Bluffs. $10; $7 seniors/students.

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Imagine running a service that sees demand double each year from February to April, double again from April to May, again from May to June and again from June to July. Welcome to the world of the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA), whose ridership explodes each year from fewer than 25,000 to nearly 300,000 passengers per month.

The only constant in the year for Angie Grant, administrator of the VTA, is change.

Ms. Grant is a living example of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule – the idea that the key to success is putting in the time. As VTA administrator since 1997, she hit the 10,000-hour mark more than a decade ago, but in fact her bona fides in the transit business go back much further.

She’s held a commercial driver’s license since she was 18 and driving shuttles for Island Transport. In fact, says Ms. Grant, “The seeds were planted way back, in my early teen days, on the Chappy ferry. I was a ticket taker, and that was a fabulous job.”

I caught up with Ms. Grant last week for an interview while she delivered stacks of new schedules to the inns of Edgartown. The transit authority launched its shoulder-season schedule on April 28, and will shift again to its peak-summer bus schedule on June 23.

Running a service efficiently when your daily ridership ranges from 600 people to more than 13,000 sounds like a recipe for migraines, but Ms. Grant relishes the work. “I think one of the things that keeps this job interesting,” she says cheerfully, “is the seasonal changes.”

The big news from the VTA for this summer is a new schedule for its busiest service, Route 1, between Vineyard Haven and Edgartown. That service is being expanded from 30-minute intervals 20-minute intervals for most of each day, beginning June 23. It’s all about tweaking the schedule to optimize service, Ms. Grant says.

Summer ridership on VTA buses has been climbing steadily over the years. Last July, the transit authority carried more than 290,000 passengers, up 38 percent since 2006. But the most dramatic growth has been in the off-season: Since 2006, January ridership has increased 129 percent.

The summer numbers are mind-boggling, but Ms. Grant is proudest of the way the VTA has been embraced by the year-round community. “It’s been very rewarding to watch the acceptance of transportation on the Island,” she says. And to the critic who questions those January buses with three or four passengers inside, she has a ready answer: “Our core riders need us and want us.”

The VTA enjoys a good relationship with the towns it serves, says Ms. Grant. About 20 percent of the authority’s $4.3-million operating budget comes from the Island towns via cherry sheet contributions; state and federal government contributes about 25 percent. But the VTA’s biggest revenue source is the fare box — about $1.3 million per year. In fact, the Vineyard agency has the highest fare box recovery rate, and the lowest government subsidy, of any transit authority in Massachusetts.

With its intense seasonality, its mix of routes and its varied user groups — from summer day-trippers to year-round workers, children, and the elderly — the VTA is unique among transit agencies on almost every front. Ms. Grant laughingly tells of a recent visit from researchers studying rural transit agencies, whose jaws dropped when they began to understand what the VTA faces in serving this community. “We were like, yeah, this is what we do,” she recalls.

And the vendors of fleet management systems to transit authorities across the nation come to the Island confident that their software can handle this little operation — but they leave humbled. Ms. Grant warns them: “This is Martha’s Vineyard, my friend. You have no idea what you’ve just gotten yourself into.” The software vendors have yet to figure out how to accommodate a little agency that will pull a bus from the Edgartown-South Beach run on a rainy day and throw it at whatever Island route needs it most.

Even the buses in the Island fleet are scaled to fit our unique roadscape. The VTA can’t buy buses in the standard width of 108 inches because they’re simply too wide for our streets. “We’re looking for a width of 96 inches,” says Ms. Grant, “and right now only two manufacturers make them.”

With so many challenges, what explains the VTA’s success? “It helps that we have a veteran staff,” says Ms. Grant. “We’re very good at what we do, because we’ve been doing it so long together. And on our workforce, we have a huge number of returning seasonal drivers each year. At the VTA, they don’t lose their seniority when they come back.”

From the rider’s perspective, the VTA is the ultimate Point A to Point B service — reliable, affordable and convenient. But Angie Grant understands that even as she crunches the smallest details of customer service, her agency is funded by government sources with a different agenda. “Our core mission,” she says, “is congestion mitigation and air quality improvement. That’s the big driver of mass transit everywhere.”

What’s ahead for the VTA? “I’d love to see us forming stronger relationships with the business community,” says Ms. Grant. “We need to educate business owners about the benefits of transit, for their staff and for their business. You know, if you’re parking your own car three or four doors down from your business, your customers can’t park there. If you spend $100 on an employee bus pass, you get a tax deduction and you’ve made your employee feel great.”

She’s also been thinking about all the bus pull-offs on the busy Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. “It’s great for our passengers that we’ll stop pretty much anywhere it’s safe to stop. But we’d like to have less of an impact on the roadsides, where we’re killing vegetation and degrading asphalt in some areas. It would be nice for our passengers to have amenities like benches and shelter, but formalizing bus stops has a financial, an aesthetic and operational impact — we need to consider these things and work them out with the towns.”

Finally, does Angie Grant have an opinion on the Roundabout, which her buses will be traversing almost 100 times on a busy summer day?

She shrugs and grins. “Our trip length isn’t going to change with or without a roundabout. It’s going to take us the same amount of time to get to Edgartown. The overall length of the trip won’t be any different; it’s just a matter of where we’re going to be backed up. It doesn’t matter to us.”

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In the season of annual town meetings that opens this Tuesday, public libraries are making headlines in four of the six Island towns. Edgartown and West Tisbury will vote on multi-million-dollar building projects. All three up-Island towns are poised to join the Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing system, the regional network known to and beloved by down-Island patrons as CLAMS.

It’s a remarkable moment, playing out against the backdrop of a Vineyard community that fiercely loves its libraries.

Ebba Hierta, director of the Chilmark Library, recently spent some time with her calculator and the records kept by MBLC, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. She totaled the number of transactions Vineyarders made at their libraries last year, divided by our year-round population, and then did the same for Nantucket. Ebba found that on Nantucket, the tally came to 17 transactions, per patron, per year. On the Vineyard, the number of transactions was 33 — double Nantucket’s figure.

“Martha’s Vineyard,” she told me, “might be the library-lovingest place in the Commonwealth. I think the fact that our libraries are being used so heavily by our residents is proof positive that these six libraries are doing a great job.”

Last July, the Island received news from the state that two towns had won grants for new library construction. West Tisbury won $2.98 million, available as soon as the town votes its portion of the project cost. Edgartown won $5 million — also pending a town vote — with its state funds becoming available next summer.

Meanwhile, at the Edgartown Library, where I work, we still hear at least one patron remarking every week that it’s too bad we didn’t get our grant. Actually, we respond, it’s a good thing we won our grant in the second year rather than in the first, because Edgartown needed time to prepare the comprehensive plan, which voters are taking up this week.

Island papers have enjoyed contrasting West Tisbury’s happy dance toward a new public library with Edgartown’s bruising political slog. Conflict makes news — I get that. But I’d like, politely, to suggest that in fact the similarities between the stories of these two towns entirely trump the differences:

Edgartown’s most recent library expansion, to 6,800 square feet in 1975, was so heavily compromised that in 1986, the town’s capital programs committee put the library back on its short list of facilities needing expansion. West Tisbury’s current library building, which opened in 1993, was cut back by more than half from the original design by architect Ben Moore, and at just 5,640 square feet was inadequate from the start.

Edgartown has struggled painfully with the disposition of a beloved building, the 1904 Carnegie Library on North Water Street. West Tisbury had a similarly hard time letting go of its historic Music Street library – trying not once, but twice, to operate a branch there.

In the end, both towns accepted that their old library buildings were outgrown and turned to the Island champions of adaptive reuse, the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. The Preservation Trust has restored the Music Street library and now rents the space to Island Theatre Workshop. The Trust has promised that if voters approve the new library in Edgartown, it will take the lead in restoration and reuse of the Carnegie building.

Finally, both Edgartown and West Tisbury explored vastly more ambitious expansion plans in recent years, and then sharpened their pencils. In 2003, West Tisbury considered plans for a new library enclosing 22,000 square feet; the design before voters this week is just 13,000 feet square. Four years ago, Edgartown was considering a 24,000-square-foot building plan; the project now proposed measures 15,600 square feet.

In both West Tisbury and Edgartown, the library trustees and building committees have come up with smart, tight building designs that will serve their towns for at least a generation. This, I’d suggest, is the story of deep parallels between two towns that has been eclipsed by the coverage of juicy political spats-du-jour over the past year in Edgartown.

Meanwhile, the library budgets of West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah this year include funds that will bring them into the same CLAMS library network that already includes the three down-Island towns. It’s hard to overstate what a game-changer this is for up-Island library patrons.

Ms. Hierta of Chilmark says the first thing her library staff looks forward to doing, after voters approve, is to enroll all Chilmark’s patrons in the CLAMS network and connect them to downloadable audiobooks, music, ebooks and videos through the OverDrive service. Chilmark’s second step will be connecting their patrons to all 1.5 million items held by the CLAMS libraries across the Island and Cape Cod. Finally, sometime this fall, Chilmark will bring its own collection of about 34,000 items online for sharing across the network.

For West Tisbury, the urgency of membership in a regional network is heightened by that town’s building plans. While the town library is closed for expansion, West Tisbury will operate from what is now a single room of the building, and patrons will get most of the materials they need from the regional network.

In Aquinnah, library director Catherine Thompson is also delighted to be giving her patrons access to digital materials through the CLAMS network. “The downloadable component and the quality of the interface are both so strong,” she says. “I think people will love it.”

As members of CLAMS, the Island public libraries, and all our patrons, will be able to enjoy the best of both worlds: the library as local gathering place, and the library as portal to a lively world of information. For the “library-lovingest place in the Commonwealth,” this year brings a great moment of opportunity.

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Director Peter Boak was hard at work during a rehearsal Monday night. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

“Beethoven and Friends” is the title Peter Boak, director of the Island Community Chorus, has chosen for this weekend’s spring concerts at the Performing Arts Center of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Actually, “Luigi Cherubini and Friends” might be a more truthful title, Mr. Boak admits. His original thought for this program was to present Cherubini’s entire Requiem in C minor (1816), which he eventually decided was too much for the Chorus to take on. “But in doing research on Cherubini and his Requiem,” he says, “I came across a quotation from Beethoven, who said that if he were going to write a requiem mass, he would model it after Cherubini’s, not after Mozart’s.

“I started looking at this relationship between Beethoven and Cherubini, and this whole concert program grew out of that. As I started researching who else was composing and well known at the time, this program started to pull together.”

This weekend’s concerts, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, will feature the dramatic centerpiece of Cherubini’s Requiem, the “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath). Based on a 13th-century Latin text, it’s a relentless, emotionally overpowering vision of final judgment that promises to knock you back in your seat.

Wrapped around the Cherubini are an array of choral masterpieces from the heart of the classical repertoire, including Joseph Haydn’s “The Heavens Are Telling,” Franz Schubert’s sublime 1828 setting of the “Tantum ergo” in E-flat major, and two movements from Johann Hummel’s First Mass in B-flat, the “Gloria” and the “Qui tollis” with its fugue of cascading “Amens” that goes on for nine glorious pages.

The concert program concludes with the Hallelujah Chorus. No, not Handel’s, the one you’re thinking of, but Beethoven’s own version from an oratorio he composed in 1802. Mr. Boak is looking forward to presenting this piece, which the Chorus has never performed before. “It’s an exquisite piece of music,” he says, “and not that well known. I really think it’s equally as impressive as Handel’s Hallelujah.”

Having organized this concert program, Mr. Boak realized early in the Chorus’s 12-week rehearsal schedule that he was asking a great deal from both his singers and from the organization’s accompanist, Garrett Brown. “Every piece we’re performing this weekend was originally composed for orchestra,” he says. “Garrett is basically playing an orchestral part with two hands.”

Wanting to fill out the program without overwhelming his choir or accompanist, Mr. Boak reached out to a musical friend, pianist Lisa Weiss, the Todd Distinguished Professor of Music at Goucher College. Ms. Weiss has agreed to perform with the Chorus this weekend, presenting an interlude of music composed by Schubert.

“Lisa is an exquisite performer,” Mr. Boak says. “The Schubert is absolutely appropriate for our concert. And she’ll be giving Garrett and the Chorus time for a breather. I think it’s going to be appreciated by everyone involved.”

The Island Community Chorus, which gives three concerts each year, traditionally fields its smallest group of singers for the spring concert, because this is the season when singers take vacations and can’t make all the rehearsals. This weekend, about 100 voices will be taking to the stage.

“Traditionally,” Mr. Boak says, “this spring concert has also become the time when we do the most demanding music. It was spring when we did Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. It was spring when we did Orff’s Carmina Burana. For our December concerts, we’re thinking of music that’s based around the holiday festivities, and our July performances at the Tabernacle tend to be more of a pops concert. So the spring is the time when we sink our teeth into the most substantial choral music. I’ve been loving it.”

This spring’s program is dedicated to John Ebbs, for six years the first elected president of the Island Community Chorus, who died March 16 at age 85.

“It was John,” Mr. Boak recalls, “who had the vision to see that if the Chorus was really going to develop into a substantial and viable body, it needed to have some organization. Together, he and Harry Peterson created our bylaws and undertook to get us our 501-c-3 status.

“He was such a quiet, unassuming guy, but when you talk about still waters running deep, that was John. He saw what had to be done, and he got it done.”

Spring concert of the Island Community Chorus: 7:30 pm on Saturday, March 31, and 3 pm on Sunday, April 1, at the Performing Arts Center. Suggested donation at the door is $15.

Nis Kildegaard is a longtime member of the Island Community Chorus and a frequent contributor to The Times.

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The MCAS tests were born out of the Commonwealth’s Education Reform Act of 1993, years before the No Child Left Behind Act came along and co-opted them as part of our national high-stakes testing system. The same 1993 legislation spawned the Commission on Time and Learning, which set minimum hours of instruction for children in Massachusetts schools.

One reason we have block scheduling at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School is that by arranging the academic day into four long blocks, with just three five-minute passing periods between them, the high school was able to meet the standard without extending its year.

According to the rules laid out on Beacon Hill, things like hallway time, recess, and lunch hour don’t count as learning. Absurdly enough, however, time spent penciling answers on standardized tests does count. So do all the hours our teachers spend drilling kids on test-taking strategies and administering practice tests in preparation for the MCAS exams.

And with so many tests, you can bet there’s a lot of prepping involved. Here’s a quick walk through the MCAS year in the Island public schools:

MEPA, the state’s English proficiency tests, are administered to grades 1-12 in the last week of October. In November, high school students take six hours of tests in English and mathematics. Two hours of high school biology tests follow in February, and March brings a retesting round of high school English and math tests.

The spring administration of MEPA is held in February and March — this time, our kindergartners are tested, too. Late March brings the big round of English reading and composition tests for grades 3-8 and 10, and April brings a similar marathon of testing in math and science. Finally in early June, as their academic year ends, our high schoolers will take their MCAS tests in science, technology, and engineering.

Folks, the educational cart is now officially leading the horse. It was possible, in the early years of MCAS, for the advocates of all these tests to argue that they’re merely diagnostic and that if we teach our children well, scores will improve as a happy side-effect. But now defenders of the testing regime have been reduced to suggesting that if we teach to the test (because there’s no denying that we do), the side-effect is a better education for our kids.

Just how brutally the academic year has been distorted by all this testing, and by all the test-prep classes associated with it, is hard to overstate. One of the casualties is the Tisbury School’s fourth grade theatre project, a 17-year collaboration with the Vineyard Playhouse. Another is a project I created in 2005 at the Edgartown School, where for three years I helped students in grades 5 to 8 produce their own school newspaper. When I called the new principal, John Stevens, in the fall of 2008, to talk about another journalism project, we had a brief conversation which I remember playing out something like this:

John: “We’re going in a different direction this year, with a focus on nonfiction writing.”

Me: “But the journalism project is all about nonfiction writing!”

John: “I know, but this year we’re going to concentrate on the form of writing that’s on the state tests.”

Me, incredulously: “You mean the five-paragraph essay? One graph introduction, three supporting graphs and a conclusion? I’ve been making my living as a writer for more than 30 years, and I’ve never, ever been asked to write one of those.”

John: “Nis, this is the hand we’ve been dealt, and we’ve got to play it.”

This winter, I explored plans for a series of televised forums on issues in public education at the Edgartown Public Library, but found that our Island teachers are reluctant to discuss their concerns on-camera. Teachers fear reprisals from their principals, who keep them on a short leash in pursuit of the punitive and impossible goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act. (Every student performing at grade level by 2014 – hello, can you say Lake Wobegon?) Principals may privately agree that NCLB is a failed federal program, but they must answer to their superintendents, who answer to the state Department of Education, which dances to the tune of the federal government.

What we’ve witnessed in the past 20 years is the most dramatic shift of authority away from the classroom teacher to distant bureaucrats and legislators ever seen in the history of American public education. I’m convinced that when we look back on this era of “test them until they scream for mercy,” we’ll recognize it as a dark age in public education.

In our hearts, we know that fostering a love of learning is more important than stuffing young heads with facts that, after the test, are quickly forgotten. We know that children learn more when they have some say in what they’re studying than when the subject matter is forced upon them. (The recent high school science fair was a bracingly vivid example of this.) We know that even though the Boston papers rush to rank all the schools in Massachusetts on the week when MCAS scores come out, the quality of education is not reducible to a number.

And yet our legislators and educational leaders persist in arguing that more testing equals better education. My favorite answer to that argument comes from one of the Edgartown School student newspapers. When one of my young reporters asked science teacher David Faber for his take on our national preoccupation with testing, he replied: “You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it more often.”

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The science fair overflowed the high school lunchroom and filled the library too. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s 13th annual science fair, held Saturday, involved 233 students who presented nearly 150 science projects, and another 60 students in a wind turbine design competition. This event, which once fit so comfortably in the high school cafeteria, now overflows that space and spills over to the library and its conference room as well.

Suzan Bellincampi of Felix Neck Sanctuary, who’s been a science fair judge for every one of its 13 years, said Saturday: “It’s really mind-boggling how this has grown. The kids seem to be taking the science fair a lot more seriously now. The projects are so great this year – they’ve really taken it to a new level.”

The science fair has grown so big that it now needs more judges – 47 of them this year – than it had exhibits in the early years. With 19 projects in biology, a dozen each in chemistry, physics and environmental science, and a whopping 78 projects in this year’s hottest new field of engineering, it was simply impossible for one person to see more than a fraction of all the work on display in the span of two hours.

The new emphasis on engineering was a great success for the science fair this year, said Elliott Bennett, who chairs the high school science department. “Engineering is a component of most science fairs, but we’d never really pushed it until this year,” she said. “Engineering, problem-solving and design, is big in education now, and we decided this was the next logical step for these kids. They already understand how to design an experiment: now, let’s get them creating things.”

Data supporting the hypothesis that kids loved this new focus was everywhere — from the chair Dana Jacobs built entirely from recycled cardboard to Kevin Burchill’s homemade seismograph and Isabel Smith’s design for a stormwater catchbasin. Here, from the notebook of an overwhelmed reporter, are a few examples of the creativity on display at the science fair:

* Katherine Donegan designed an air-scrubber for a woodstove flue that reduces carbon dioxide output by 75 percent. Her working model has a spinning filter filled with crystals that absorb carbon dioxide. Motorizing the filter does use more energy, she agreed, but in her tests it greatly increased its effectiveness.

There’s trial and error involved when you’re building things for the real world, said Katherine: “At first when I spun the filter, a lot of the material inside flew out. I had to add more screens to keep it in.” She started research for her fair exhibit in January, and seemed to have enjoyed a project that involves building a working device: “I think it’s been more interesting than just studying something.”

* Sophomore Molly Wallace set out to develop her own recipe for chapstick after reading an online article about chapstick addiction and realizing she has most of the symptoms herself. “I thought this would be a fun project,” she said, “to see if you could make your own with simple ingredients that are all natural.”

In the course of her project, Molly went through three recipes, trying different ratios of ingredients and scents. Adjusting the formula so it softened and hardened at the right temperatures was important, she said. In her first attempts the cocoa butter scent was overwhelming; she tempered that with olive oil.

Molly said her third version of the chapstick recipe is something she might actually use, but her favorite is still from Bert’s Bees. “I also like Blistex,” she said. “I have them both in my bag.”

* Freshmen Eli Hanschka and Russell Shapiro took a third-place prize for their physics project, studying the effects of parachute shape on drop velocity. They hypothesized that a circular chute would descend most slowly, and their elegantly-designed experiment showed just that.

“We cut our parachutes so they’d all have the same surface area – 144 square centimeters each,” said Russell. “We punched four holes in all the shapes,” said Eli, “and used equal string lengths to hold a washer. Our only variable was the parachute’s shape.”

They dropped each parachute from a balcony 10 times, and timed each descent with a stopwatch. “The circular parachute had the slowest drop velocity of 118 centimeters per second,” said Eli.

* Jack O’Malley and Kyle Joba-Woodruff teamed up to build the winning wind turbine, which cranked out 4 volts and 26 milliamps during its stint inside physics teacher Dana Munn’s wind tunnel. The secret of their design, Jack said, was a tiny gearbox from a model airplane engine which tripled the rotating speed of the two turbine blades.

“There’s a trade-off with the gearbox,” Jack said, “because it’s a little bit harder to get it going. But we found a rotor design that’s very efficient, and once it gets up to speed, it produces a lot more electricity.”

Chemistry teacher Natalie Munn, who coordinated the science fair for its first decade (Jackie Hermann has taken over for the past three years), was delighted with the excitement the project-based exhibits added to this year’s event. “We’ve seen a lot of really cool, functional designs,” she said.

Agreed Ms. Bennett, the department chairman: “This is so much fun, because the kids are so excited about their projects – this is a great way for them to show off what they do academically.”

2012 Science Fair Awards

Dr. James H. Porter Grand Winner Awards

Tisbury Waterways sponsors these awards in honor of former president, who designed catchment basins to filter and remove dangerous pollutants in road run-off and changed the health of our waters.

1: Lee Faraca and Gordon Moore, Cost Efficiency — Solar versus Wind Energy.

2: Jack Wallace, Homework Buddy.

3: Charlotte Hall, Ceramic Glazes — Chemistry and Art Combined at High Fire.

GenOn Wind Turbine Engineering Competition

1: Jack O’Malley and Kyle Joba-Woodruff.

2: Antone Lima

3: Maya Harcourt and Michael Schroeder

Category Winners

Biology

1: Jack Yuen, “Do You Really Catch More Flies With Honey?” 2: Willow Wunch, “The Growth of Mold Under Different Conditions.” 3: Eleah Caseau and Amanda Fielding, “The Effect of Gender Identity on Short-Term Memory.”

Chemistry

1: Colin Cameron and Elie Jordi, “Food Scraps to Biofuel.” 2: Lucy Hackney and Zana Van Rooyen, “Glass vs. Plexiglass.” 3: Anne Ollen, “Which Antacid Works Best?”

Physics

1: Brian Donegan and Aaron Teves, “Variations of Strength in Paper.” 2: Luke McCracken and Kevin Montambault, “Gaussian Accelerator.” 3: Eli Hanschka and Russell Shapiro, “The Effect of Parachute Shape on Its Drop Velocity.”

Environmental Science

1: Lee Faraca and Gordon Moore, “Cost Efficiency: Solar vs. Wind Energy.” 2: Josie Iadicicco and Sabrina Reppert, “Garbage Separation.” 3: Mike Mussell and Tim Roberts, “Dissolved Oxygen in Water vs. Temperature and Salinity.”

Engineering Design (Product-Based)

1: Jack Wallace, “Homework Buddy.” 2: Nathaniel Horwitz, “Waterfall of Renewable Energy.” 3: Dana Jacobs, “The Cardboard Chair.”

Engineering Design (Process-Based)

1: Charlotte Hall, “Ceramic Glazes: Chemistry and Art Combined at High Fire.” 2: Alayna Hutchinson, “Portable Water Purification.” 3 (tie): Lucy Norris, “Friendly Fuel of the Future,” and Isabel Smith, “Creating the Most Effective Catch Basin.”

Overall Science Fair Winners

1, Lee Faraca and Gordon Moore. 2, Jack Wallace. 3, Charlotte Hall.

Wind Turbine Competition

1, Jack O’Malley and Kyle Joba-Woodruff. 2, April Hargy and Antone Lima. 3, Maya Harcourt and Michael Schroeder.

Special Topic Awards

Cape Light Compact Award for an energy-related project: Andrew Ruimerman.

The David Brand Award for an outstanding earth science project: Lee Faraca and Gordon Moore.

Friends of Sengekontacket Award for a project on water quality or salt marsh ecology: Isabel Smith.

Island Grown Initiative Awards for projects that focus on agricultural systems and techniques that support biodiversity or address traditional or historic Island agriculture: Alayna Hutchinson.

Lagoon Pond Association Award for a project that addresses a water quality issue with application to the protection of the water resources of Martha’s Vineyard: Galen Mayhew.

Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute Award for an outstanding marine or coastal science project that might include any aspect of science, fishing, engineering, or conservation: Galen Mayhew.

Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association Award for a project that focuses on increasing the awareness and understanding of aspects of our marine environment provided in memory of Donald K. Boyd: Isabel Smith.

Sustainability Awards presented to the top male and female projects that involve the recycling or reuse of materials for a new purpose, or that involve methods of reducing energy or materials consumption sponsored by the Munn Family: Charlotte Lowell-Bettencourt.