Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools superintendent sets goals

Ralph Stewart

With the school year drawing to a close, Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) superintendent James Weiss already has goals set in the areas of student achievement, professional practice, and district improvement for the 2012-13 school year.

Mr. Weiss presented his draft goals at the May 10 meeting of the All-Island School Committee (AISC), which approved them that night. His goals are based on a new state educator evaluation system mandated by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) that goes into effect next year.

Under a new evaluation system mandated by the DESE, student learning and educator practice will be linked to determine performance ratings for administrators, from superintendents to principals, as well as teachers.

The new evaluation system’s requirements must be implemented in the 2012-2013 school year in school districts such as MVPS that received state Race to the Top Funds. In addition to approving Mr. Weiss’s new goals, at his recommendation the AISC also voted unanimously on May 10 to adopt the state’s new Educator Evaluation Model and rubrics in six classifications for school personnel.

The AISC used its own method for evaluating the superintendent for the last time this spring. Since Mr. Weiss was hired as superintendent in 2005, AISC members and the superintendent’s cabinet, composed of school administrators and central office administrators, evaluated Mr. Weiss in an annual survey.

The superintendent’s evaluation consisted of a checklist of items under headings such as Educational Direction, Communications, Leadership, and Systemic Functions. There were six responses for each item, ranging from “fails to meet expectations,” to “exceeds expectations.”

As a first step in the state’s new evaluation process, Mr. Weiss said he reviewed a summary of his evaluation and comments by the AISC for the 2011-12 school year, reviewed school improvement plans for each school, and reviewed the MCAS results from the spring of 2011. He also did a self-evaluation on which his goals were based.

Mr. Weiss said his goal for student achievement is to work with elementary school building administrators to improve math scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams in grades 6, 7 and 8 in schools Island-wide. While there are other measures available in most schools, Mr. Weiss said MCAS appears to be the most consistent student achievement measure.

He said his decision to target the middle school grades stemmed from a review of MCAS student growth percentiles in both English language arts and mathematics.

“If you look across the Island the place where we have the least amount of positive growth is math,” Mr. Weiss told the AISC.

In the area of professional practice, Mr. Weiss said he plans to restructure his daily schedule to increase the length and student achievement focus of his school visits. Instead of one or two short visits to each school per week, he would visit each Island school weekly for at least 90 minutes. Mr. Weiss said each visit would include significant time with the building principal in classrooms.

He said he would also work with the school committee chairmen individually to include at least one item on every school committee meeting agenda that focuses directly on student achievement issues.

In regard to district improvement, Mr. Weiss said his goal is that all principals and central office staff would be evaluated using the new Educator Evaluation Model by June 2013. Also by that date, all administrators who conduct teacher evaluations will have received training in the new model, as will school staff.

“Everybody who adopts this will get the support of DESE, which has put aside a significant amount of money to give us training,” Mr. Weiss said. “We have consultants coming to work with staff on June 25 and 26, employed with Race to the Top money.”

As MVPS superintendent, Mr. Weiss oversees 2,027 students in separate elementary school districts in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury, and two regional school districts. The towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury are members of the Up-Island Regional School District, which includes the Chilmark and West Tisbury Schools. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School District includes students from all Island towns.

Mr. Weiss’s current contract runs through the 2012-2013 school year. In 2009, the AISC agreed to his proposal that he forego a scheduled four-percent raise that year, extend his multi-year contract by two years, and apply the wage increase over the additional years.