Island educators prepare for next week
As students enjoy their last few days of summer vacation, Island teachers are readying classrooms this week for school's start-up on September 7.
The Martha's Vineyard Public Schools will continue to manage the school bus service in-house this year, under the direction of transportation manager Jim Flynn. In order to keep scheduling consistent, elementary schools will operate from 8:15 am to 2:40 pm this year, a slight change from last year. The high school day runs from 7:40 am to 2:05 pm.
Administrators and principals Island-wide are brimming with enthusiasm for new goals and new programs, and anticipating a good year.
Cathy MacDonald opens boxes of school supplies in the learning lab at the Edgartown School. Photos by Sara Piazza
Starting at the top: Superintendent James Weiss said the public school system has three main goals this year. The first is to focus educational efforts on literacy, especially writing, in all grades.
"In 'The Learning Leader,' a book I asked all of the teachers to read this summer, the author says that writing is thinking at the end of a pencil," Mr. Weiss said. "We are trying to get all of our youngsters to think more, and we are going to encourage everyone - teachers, students, everyone - to write more."
Second, Mr. Weiss said he will be working with his staff and school personnel in looking for ways to save the taxpayers money. The third area of focus will be to negotiate contracts with the teachers, support staff, secretaries, custodians, and cafeteria workers.
Differentiation, meeting the needs of all children in the classroom by recognizing and working with their different learning styles, will be this year's theme for professional development for teachers. Marjorie Harris, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrician and expert on differentiation, has been invited to conduct a workshop for Island teachers on one of their professional days in January.
Annfay Lawton puts the finishing touches on her social skills classroom at the Edgartown School.
The adult education program will be expanded with a few courses this year, Ms. Harris said, with a goal to eventually include General Equivalency Degree programs.
The results of an Island-wide survey the school department conducted last year on adult education revealed interest in Portuguese, Italian, basic computer skills, and digital photography, Ms. Harris said. The school department plans to offer a few adult classes in the fall, get some feedback afterwards, and build up the program. The courses have not yet been selected.
Martha's Vineyard Regional High School
This week, the sign in front of the high school reads, "Welcome, class of 2010." The incoming freshmen, whose orientation day is Sept. 6, will be the 50th class to graduate since the high school was built.
Principal Peg Regan recently sent a letter to students and parents highlighting attendance policies, not because they are new but rather to call attention to them, she said.
New courses this year include an introduction to philosophy for juniors and seniors, and an expanded psychology course. There are three new foreign language teachers. For the first time, students may take a fifth level of Spanish, an advanced placement class in literature, taught by Magda Ramirez, a new staff member in addition to Portuguese teacher Jane McGroarty and Spanish teacher Justine Shemeth.
Because of the increase in students signed up for the culinary arts program, another part-time teacher has been hired. The MVRHS program recently received certification from the American Culinary Federation Foundation Accrediting Commission. Only 91 high school programs across the country are so certified.
One of the issues the School Council will be examining this year is how class rank should be reported or whether it should be reported at all, Ms. Regan said. She will start up her "Coffees with the Principal," informal meetings open to all parents, on Sept. 19 from 8 to 9:15 am in the library conference room.
Martha's Vineyard Public
After receiving its third charter from the state in 2006, Principal Bob Moore said the Martha's Vineyard Charter School is growing this school year by about 20 families.
Before school starts, parents and students will meet with teachers on Sept. 1 and 5 to set goals and objectives for the new year. The charter school opens on September 7, and the school day runs from 8:15 am to 3:15 pm.
Three new lead teachers are joining the staff, including Lori DiGiacomo, kindergarten, Michele Mayhew, grades 1-2, and Anna Cotton, grades 5-6 math and science.
Writing will be an area of focus in the classrooms this year, as well as integrating art into the curriculum. "We are also going to look at project-based learning, one of our school's key elements, and see how we can tweak it and enhance it in the classroom," Mr. Moore said.
The middle school students will be going on a camping trip to Mount Greylock the third week in September and also to visit Sturbridge Village as part of their study of agrarian society.
In continuation of work that started last spring, a school visioning committee will explore and research ideas to plan for the school's future 5 to 10 years from now, Mr. Moore said. Assessing the school's technology needs and coming up with a long-term technology plan is another goal, he added.
"It's going to be a great year," Chilmark School principal Diane Gandy predicts, with new staff members coming in and some former staff members returning.
Jen DeSelms joins the staff on the K-1 teaching team; Liz Bradley, as music specialist at the school one day a week; and Holly Bellebuono, as a grade 4-5 teacher's assistant.
Returning to her former position as Spanish teacher, Amy Hewitt also has been hired as the school's new English Language Learning teacher. Cici Berg is returning as a grade 2-3 teacher's assistant.
The school's 19 grade 4-5 students, along with teacher Jackie Guzalak and some parent chaperones, will set sail on the Shenandoah to learn about life aboard a schooner on Saturday, Sept. 10, returning on Sept. 16.
Ms. Guzalak will make sure her students get a daily dose of math, reading, and writing, Ms. Gandy said. She will report on their trip and more in the school's monthly newsletter, which starts up in October.
Edgartown School will focus on writing and assessment strategies this year, according to Principal G. Paul Dulac.
"All the research we've done this year, particularly this summer, shows that the amount of non-fiction writing students do ties in very strongly with increasing their achievement level," he said. "Assessing students and where they are, and writing on a continuous basis are areas we're interested in pursuing, along with enrichment and our after-school programs."
Two new third grade teachers, Alicia Knight and Mr. Dulac's wife, Becky, are joining the staff, along with art teacher Lisa Magnarelli. The technology program is growing with the addition of Sidney Morris, a half-time computer teacher. Anne Caldwell will take over as computer teacher for Billy Mackenty, who is on leave for one year.
Enrollment appears to be staying relatively flat, Mr. Dulac said. A smaller than anticipated incoming kindergarten class is replacing the large eighth grade class that graduated last spring. However, there are fewer school choice students transferring out, he said.
Oak Bluffs School
After a dip in kindergarten students last year, Principal Laury Binney reports enrollment is up over 400 again at Oak Bluffs School. "We're getting a lot in the middle, with the second grades averaging 20 in a class," Mr. Binney said. "There are a lot of students new to the Island, as well as school choice students."
Additions to the staff include Victoria Dreyfoos, grades 2-5 Spanish teacher, librarian Lynne VanAuken, and Andy Berry, grades 6-7 social studies teacher.
Mr. Binney said the faculty will focus on differentiation and assessment tools this year, particularly in terms of gauging children's strengths to overcome and compensate for any educational challenges they might have.
Although enrollment has stayed about the same at Tisbury School, Principal Maureen DeLoach said a larger than usual increase of 15 new students has caught her somewhat by surprise. "We've always had a family or two, but it appears to us this is quite different, she said. "We have a larger number of kids moving here from other places, in addition to school choice students."
Although the increase in students did not necessitate hiring more teachers, there are three additions to the staff this year: Scott Schofield, grades 7-8 English teacher, Joan Rice, school counselor, and Joan Baptiste, cafeteria worker. All three are Tisbury School graduates, Ms. DeLoach proudly pointed out.
Over the summer, the school underwent some upgrades, with air-conditioning added in the labs and library, and renovation work in the cafeteria and to the front and sides of the building outside.
Several Tisbury School teachers spent their summer vacation back in the classroom, attending responsive classroom training and English as a Second Language (ESL), training Ms. DeLoach said.
West Tisbury School
Michael Halt will change out of his camouflage and into his khakis as he shifts back into his role as principal at West Tisbury School, returning to the Island this weekend after serving two weeks in Korea with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.
Assistant Principal Bob Lane, who manned the watch in his absence, reports some changes in the school's classroom configuration this year. Instead of two first grades and two second grades, there will be one first grade, one second grade, and one multi-age combined first and second grade class. There also will be three sixth grades (one more than last year), two seventh grades, and two eighth grades (one fewer than last year).
Students can look forward to romping across a bright, shiny gym floor, which was revarnished over the summer.