Off the beach, on the bus, back to school
Some walked into the school building slowly, eyes downcast. Other bounced in, wearing grins. Many lingered outside as long as possible, savoring the last breath of summer freedom. And those were the teachers.
Heading back to school for an assembly on Tuesday, they displayed the same range of reactions as their students did, who joined them today in their classrooms to start a new year. Ninth graders at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) had a morning to themselves in their new surroundings yesterday, without the crush of the rest of the student body.
Administrators, faculty and staff from Martha'sVineyard Public Schools met at the regional high school's Performing Arts
Center for an educators' "pep rally" early Tuesday morning, with some inspirational words from superintendent of schools James Weiss.
Like silent sentinels, a line of school buses at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School seems to remind ninth-grader Evan Hall there is no escape - it's back to school. Freshmen had the morning to themselves yesterday at the high school for orientation. The rest of the student body starts school today. Photos by Ralph Stewart
Conversation buzzed and everyone moved slowly into the auditorium, enjoying the last strains of music performed by a high school strings ensemble in the lobby.
"I think teachers are worse than the students in getting settled down," Mr. Weiss joked. Using an old trick that usually quiets unruly classrooms, several teachers raised their hands in the air, signaling everyone it was time for silence.
To start, Mr. Weiss invited all of the elementary school principals and high school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan to introduce new administrators, staff, teachers and teaching assistants, which numbered more than 50.
Dressed for summer, although summer's over, high school freshman stroll out of their new educational headquarters for the next four years.
In discussing plans for the upcoming year, Mr. Weiss outlined three initiatives. Island schools will continue to implement a Responsive Classroom program in grades K-5, Mr. Weiss said, and this year he would like to see a similar program, Responsive Design, added in grades 6-8. Both programs integrate a social skills curriculum with academics.
As a second initiative, Mr. Weiss told the teachers, "We hope to continue the fantastic efforts you embraced last year to get students to write." He added that writing, particularly non-fiction, helps students become thinkers.
Raising the bar in math is Mr. Weiss's third initiative this year, with a goal for having all students take an algebra class before starting high school. As a step in that direction this year, 19 eighth-grade students from schools Island-wide will be offered a new honors algebra program taught by math teacher Eve Heyman at Oak Bluffs School, which will enable them to take an extra year of higher math before the end of high school.
Noting several school committee members in attendance, Mr. Weiss recognized All-Island School Committee chairman David Rossi, and MVRHS school committee chairman Susan Parker and members Susan Mercier, John Bacheller, Priscilla Sylvia, and Bob Tankard.
Asked by Mr. Weiss to say a few words, Mr. Rossi tried to persuade teachers to vote him off the program next year. Failing that, he wished them good luck.
After introducing Martha's Vineyard Regional Teachers and Educators Association president Doug Debettencourt and Martha's Vineyard Education Association co-presidents Sandy Joyce and Barbara Jones, Mr. Weiss quipped, "Only on Martha's Vineyard would you find two separate teachers' associations."
"It could be six," someone in the audience retorted.
Mr. Debettencourt thanked the school committee and Mr. Weiss for settling a new three-year teachers' contract, which he described as "fair across the board."
To send everyone off with a smile, the assembly ended with a performance by Debbie Lauer and accompanist John Erickson from the Wavelength Comedy Troupe, an improvisational acting group based in Chicago that specializes in humorous skits with education themes.
The cost of the performance was covered under the superintendent's budget, Mr. Weiss said, which traditionally includes $2,500 for the opening day program expenses such as a speaker and refreshments. Ms. Lauer's travel expenses may add slightly more, he said.
Changing faces, changing places
Mr. Weiss provided an overview of Martha's Vineyard public schools in a phone call last week. In terms of enrollment, he said he thinks the high school may be down by about 40 to 50 students, while the elementary schools will be stable, not growing or declining significantly. The official enrollment census is taken in October.
The biggest change this year is in personnel, Mr. Weiss said. Laurie Halt joined his staff as the new assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction after Marjorie Harris retired in June.
In addition to new administrators, "This year, we have probably more new teachers than I've seen in my tenure here," Mr. Weiss said. "A lot of that is simply due to changes of people coming and going on the Island, especially in three major areas, Spanish, computer, and special ed," he said.
The school system's operations will remain the same as last year's, Mr. Weiss said. The final report from a state compliance review that he expects to receive soon may contain recommendations for improvements in school operations and procedures, he added.
The review focused on four areas, including the Carl Perkins vocational technology grant for the regional high school, the school system's methods of operation, special education programs, and the English language learners program.
"I think we're going to have to do some work at the high school in terms of equipment which is out of date in the vocational technology area, but other than that, I think we'll do pretty well," Mr. Weiss said.
Martha's Vineyard Regional High School
Ten new teachers joined the regional high school staff, in addition to Neal Weaver, the new assistant principal who arrived from Jacksonville, Fla., in July.
Among new programs this year, driver's education classroom instruction will be available at no cost for the first time during the school day as a regular elective class, taught by John Stabile. The school will not provide on-the-road driving instruction. About 200 students have already signed up for it.
The course resulted from the efforts of MV Drive for Life, founded by Barbara and Tom Furino, in memory of their son David and his friend Kevin Johnson, MVRHS students who were killed in a car accident three years ago. MV Drive for Life's foremost goal is improving driver's education and getting it back into the schools.
Entering freshmen will be required to take a new earth science program, taught by science teacher Jackie Herman and newly hired teacher David Brand.
Since earth science is taught in eighth grade as well, some eighth grade teachers collaborated with the high school teachers over the summer to help write the curriculum to ensure that all of the material would be covered over the two years.
This year for the first time, all students will participate in an advisory program. Every teacher, Ms. Regan, and the director of guidance will work with 10 students. High school teachers and guidance counselors wrote separate curricula for each grade, which will be made available on the school's web site.
The September curriculum, for example, deals with getting organized for school. "It's an opportunity for kids to have a very personal relationship over the year or a few years with another adult in the building that is not their guidance counselor," Ms. Regan said.
The high school also will offer a new freshmen alternative program, Students and Teachers Achieving Results (STAR). Students who are struggling in their freshmen year will be identified after their first report card comes out in November.
"This is not a special education program," Ms. Regan said. "This is for regular education students, who for whatever reason have difficulty adjusting to high school behaviorally and academically."
STAR will be an "invisible" program, she added. The students will be put in classes with four mainstream teachers and work with a special education teacher for social interaction, self-assessment, and extra homework help.
In addition to new programs, the race culture institute and peer outreach programs will continue.
Regarding sports teams, Ms. Regan said the high school is definitely out of the South Coast Conference league. In the meantime, she and athletic director Mike Joyce are pursuing possible membership in the Atlantic Coast League, which includes seven schools more contiguous to the Island. Ms. Regan said they sent letters this summer to principals of schools in the league and hope to be invited to speak to them this fall about joining. Unfortunately, Ms. Regan said, "It takes a year or two years before acceptance."
Principal Diane Gandy said she expects about 45 students this fall at Chilmark School. After undergoing major surgery over the summer, she said she is still recovering but doing well enough to start back to school.
"It brings tears to my eyes when I think of how supportive and generous people are," Ms. Gandy said. "The staff and administrators have been great." Four new teachers joined her staff, and she is still looking for a reading specialist. Parent Becky Barcha-Tinus has volunteered to give technology support by helping children in the computer lab.
"I was in the principal's office so much, they finally made me the principal," jokes John Stevens. The new Edgartown School principal grew up in Edgartown, attended Edgartown School, and graduated from MVRHS in 1971.
"I definitely have an advantage," Mr. Stevens said. "Having come from here, I know a lot of these folks. The kids I grew up with are now parents and grandparents, and I will be seeing their children."
Having worked as a principal in elementary, middle, and high schools, Mr. Stevens said he is looking forward to working in an elementary school again because, "That's where I think I really did my best work and had the most fun."
In addition to returning staff members and teachers, eleven teachers are new or have been reassigned. "I've got to learn the lay of the land, by getting to know all of the staff and what their capabilities are," Mr. Stevens said.
Martha's Vineyard Public
Director Bob Moore says enrollment is up to about 170 students at the charter school, now in its 12th year. New initiatives at the school include moving further towards a "green school," and increasing and enhancing technology instruction over the next two years for all students.
Sidney Morris, hired as the new instructor of technology, will help integrate technology into the curriculum and the classrooms, Mr. Moore said. The charter school also hired Victoria Dryfoos as a new Spanish teacher.
The high school has grown by 30 students. This year they will be able to spend six hours every Thursday working off-campus with mentors ranging from artisans to woodworkers to business owners.
"We're excited enrollment is up, we're excited about some of these new ventures, and we're quite confident that we'll have a successful school year," Mr. Moore said.
Richie Smith is acting principal at Tisbury School this year, after serving five years as assistant principal. Former principal Maureen DeLoach will serve as assistant principal this year and then retire.
Enrollment at Tisbury School is about 300, with a large kindergarten class and large grade 7 and 8 classes. Three new teachers joined the staff.
Mr. Smith said the school will be trying a new initiative this year called Lesson Study, which allows teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and work as a team. In addition, he said he would like to move Tisbury School towards an inclusion model for special education, which means that the special education teacher works in the classroom instead of pulling children out of the classroom to get services.
Mr. Smith and his wife Melissa, a teacher at Oak Bluffs, have a four-year-old son and a new baby boy. Born in June with heart defects, he underwent three surgeries in eight weeks over the summer.
During that time, many people brought dinners to the Smiths and offered help. "The school community has been incredible in their support for me," he said. "The beauty of this Island isn't the beach - it's the people."
Oak Bluffs School
Assistant principal Carlin Hart takes on the role of acting principal this year, while principal Lawrence (Laury) Binney is on leave for a year. Gina Patti is serving as acting assistant principal.
Mr. Hart said enrollment is at about 405, with about 18 new students. At Tuesday's teacher assembly, he introduced 21 new staff members.
He said he is grateful to custodians Ray Frazio, Donnie Combra, Bob Dickson, and Fred Thornbrugh, who managed to paint and clean the inside of the entire school, working around summer program schedules, and to Richie Combra and the Oak Bluffs highway department for taking care of the outside of the school before it opened.
"With all the changes going on and all the new staff, we're trying to keep everything on an even keel, and get the kids in here and get them excited about being here," he said.
West Tisbury School
Retired educator Daniel G. McCarthy, Ph.D., is holding down the fort at West Tisbury School as acting principal until principal Michael Halt returns at the end of September from his tour of duty in Iraq as a U.S. Marine Corps Reservist. "I'm really enjoying it, but I can't wait for Mike to get back, Mr. McCarthy said. Seven new teachers joined the staff.
West Tisbury School will bring in Responsive Classroom trainers and offer refresher courses for teachers, and will begin adding the Responsive Design program in grades 6 to 8 this year, Mr. McCarthy said.
The school building has a new roof and façade. Replacement of the boiler and installation of a new heating system has been put out for bid.