Oops: school van transports wedding guests
The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) District school committee dealt Monday with the improper use of a school vehicle. The issue was a trip to an off-Island wedding taken by some staff members in a high-school owned vehicle. Coincidentally, it was a wedding attended by school committee member Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter of West Tisbury, a well-known critic of school spending.
In the first new business of the year, the school committee approved the first reading of a vehicle use policy, which stemmed from the recent incident involving misuse of one of the high school district's vehicles. Among the policy's requirements, staff members must put requests for using vehicles in writing and provide a written mileage log.
Superintendent of schools James Weiss explained that he took disciplinary action against one teacher and three non-union or administration employees before school started. The four used an off-Island vehicle owned by the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School district to attend a wedding. It happened that Mr. Manter, who also attended the wedding, saw the three school employees arrive at the wedding in the van, along with passengers who are not employed by the school system, and told Mr. Weiss about it later. Mr. Weiss acted quickly to address the issue. Questioned by The Times, school officials declined to identify the personnel involved or whose wedding it was.
"The three people [school employees in the van] involved were given letters of reprimand and were asked to pay restitution," Mr. Weiss said. "The other person, who may have given permission, was also given a letter of reprimand."
Mr. Manter took issue with Mr. Weiss's disciplinary actions, and although it was a personnel issue, asked to discuss the incident at Monday's meeting.
"You can imagine how I felt when senior members of the administration pulled up and got out of a high school vehicle," Mr. Manter said. "I felt the sanctions were too light, for using a public vehicle for personal use - a letter of reprimand is not much, and the restitution was cheaper than taking one's personal car - this flies in the face of public trust."
School committee chairman Susan Mercier said she completely agreed with Mr. Weiss's actions, given that he moved forward in creating a vehicle use policy that did not exist prior to the incident.
"I agree - it's a first offense and not a pattern," said committee member Susan Parker. "I have confidence in Dr. Weiss's ability to mete out appropriate consequences."
In other business, Mr. Weiss said the rate for substitute teachers has been increased, in keeping with rates on the Cape. New rates for substitute teachers in the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools who are Massachusetts-certified are $75/day for the first 15 non-consecutive days and $80/day thereafter. Non-Massachusetts-certified substitute teachers will be paid $65/day for the first 15 non-consecutive days and $75/day thereafter.
In his first school committee report as the high school's new principal, Steve Nixon noted a few changes, the biggest being the reduction of homeroom from every day to once a week. The change adds 30 hours of instruction time to the school year.
To make use of the extra time, Mr. Nixon asked the school committee to amend the school calendar to add two professional days, which will allow teachers to focus on cross-curriculum collaboration, to provide a connection in content between courses. Mr. Nixon said other goals are for every student in the building to write eight major papers in four years, to improve writing skills and ensure equity in grading. The school committee approved the calendar change.
Mr. Nixon welcomed interim assistant principal Carlin Hart, who greeted the freshmen and juniors at orientation assemblies. Mr. Hart admitted he was as lost as the freshmen while learning his way around the building. "I'm having a blast - it's a lot of fun working with 14- to 18-year-olds," said Mr. Hart, who was tapped to fill the interim position this year from his job as assistant principal at Oak Bluffs School.
In other news, Mr. Nixon noted that a preliminary 2007-2008 dropout data summary for Martha's Vineyard Regional High School shows that 16 students, about two percent, dropped out. However, he said, the General Equivalency Degree (GED) graduates are not counted until October 1, which may reduce the count by two or three students.
The high school also recently received a letter from the Commission on Public Secondary Schools, which voted at its June 22-23 meeting to accept the school's five-year progress report and continue its accreditation, Mr. Nixon said. The commission highlighted several positive aspects of the school, including the new STAR program, piloted last year, for helping incoming students who are struggling in their freshmen year.
Another change this year involves school bus transportation, which has been extended to students who live within a one and a half mile radius of the school. The school committee suggested the increase in transportation last year, as a measure to reduce the number of students driving to school.
Athletic director Michael Joyce announced that Martha's Vineyard Regional High School has been invited to join the Eastern Athletic Conference (EAC). The current EAC members include Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Bishop Stang High School in Dartmouth, Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton, and Somerset High School. Currently MVRHS is in the Mayflower League for football and track.
If Martha's Vineyard Regional High School joins the athletic league, full membership would be granted right away, and competitive games would start in the fall of 2009, with eight games in a set schedule, Mr. Joyce said. The EAC has asked for an answer by Dec. 1. Mr. Joyce said he might ask the Mayflower League to be allowed a two-year probationary period for reentering the league, if the new one does not work out.
Other teams in the league would provide their own bus transport, Mr. Joyce said. Requirements for Steamship Authority transportation would be similar to those in the agreement in use when the high school had a two-year trial membership in the South Coast Conference for boys and girls soccer, golf, boys hockey, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, and field hockey. Mr. Nixon said that he and Mr. Joyce will consider all of the issues carefully before making a decision.
Mr. Nixon also instituted a new practice at Monday's meeting. He will invite teachers from a different school department each month to provide a report about their work.
Chairman Paul Brissette provided an overview of the art department, noting that it offers 18 electives and is one of the largest providers of educational technology training in the high school. He estimated about 53 to 63 percent of the student body takes an art class in a given year.
The art department includes teachers Janice Frame for drawing and painting, Scott Campbell for crafts, sculpture, and 3-D classes, and Chris Baer for photography, film, digital drafting, and 3-D design.
Mr. Campbell made an appeal to anyone in the community who might have a big, old, cast-iron bathtub to donate to him for use in recycling all of his classes' art materials.
Mr. Brissette said he has worked all summer on Tisbury's town mural contest. He and other members of the town mural committee solicited entries from Island artists for designs for a mural for the Stop and Shop building wall that faces the Water Street parking lot. After the committee and Tisbury selectmen choose the winning design, Mr. Brissette said the artist will work with art students from the regional high school to produce the mural on large panels that will be attached to the wall.
Since the regional high school will graduate its 50th class next spring, Mr. Nixon has invited graduates from the first graduating class of 1960 to contact him about joining in special activities taking place throughout the year. The first respondent, Sandra Brown Arnold, shared memories of her first year at the regional high school with the school committee Monday night.
"It was both an exciting time and a time of apprehension," she said. "We came into a new building for one year, after going to the same school for 11 years."
Mr. Nixon said he hopes many more class of 1960 grads will come forward and share their memories with the students. Mr. Baer added that the yearbook staff would like to collaborate with members of the class of 1960 to gather old photos to use in this year's yearbook.