Islanders host party for retired superintendent James Weiss

Although Mr. Weiss has cut out his neckties, his ties to Martha’s Vineyard remain.

Dr. Weiss enters his party with an ear-to-ear smile. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Newly retired Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools Superintendent James Weiss arrived at a celebration held in his honor Saturday night at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, dressed for the part. His characteristic white dress shirt and necktie were replaced with an open-collared sports shirt.

In a nod to Mr. Weiss’s sartorial habit, party organizers asked all guests, men and women alike, to don a tie — not just any tie, one of Mr. Weiss’s neckties. Upon entering the hall, guests found a seemingly endless supply of ties in an array of bright colors and whimsical patterns hung on racks.

Freed from his usual restrictive fashion accessory on the sultry summer evening, Mr. Weiss gamely put on a festive sash that read “Retired” on the front, and “Now the Fun Begins” on the back.

The celebration marked Mr. Weiss’s retirement on June 30. His career spanned 46 years as an educator, 10 of them spent at the helm of Martha’s Vineyard’s Superintendency Union No. 19, where he had responsibility for the Island’s six public schools. About 150 people attended, including an assortment of educators and school committee members past and present, town officials, representatives from the YMCA and other youth-oriented organizations, community members from Island-wide, and friends and former educational colleagues from Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Mr. Weiss also enjoyed the company of family, including his son Joel and his fiancé, Nicole Boudreau of Raymond, N.H., who made their first trip to Martha’s Vineyard, as did his sister Susan Miller and her significant other, Morrill Hay, from Delray Beach, Fla.

To Mr. Weiss’s delight, the crowd also included mystery guests dressed as Cookie Monster, Yoda, a wizard, a panda bear, and a turkey in some of the costumes he wore in years past as an annual Halloween tradition on visits to Island schools.

All-Island School Committee Chairman Susan Mercier alluded to a possibly covert operation in which she said the costumes were “graciously donated” by Mr. Weiss, “removed one night from his personal collection.” Mr. Weiss said he didn’t know how the party planners pulled it off, but he loved seeing the costumes there. “I didn’t even know they were missing — that says something, I guess,” he admitted with a laugh.

Although the occasion of Mr. Weiss’s retirement was bittersweet for many, humor, admiration, and appreciation were the hallmarks of the three-hour celebration. About an hour into the festivities, Ms. Mercier emceed a brief program that started with remarks from longtime director of Student Support Services Dan Seklecki, who retired in 2012.

Mr. Seklecki recalled that he worked with eight superintendents before Mr. Weiss, who upon his arrival “became very rapidly known for his boundless energy.”

“Without a doubt, we owe Jim a great deal,” Mr. Seklecki said. “These were very, very complex and challenging times in our public schools. You were our best ambassador, and you are a gift to us all.”

Edgartown Police Chief David Rossi, a former longtime Edgartown School Committee member and Edgartown School resource officer, read a citation of recognition for Mr. Weiss’s service as a superintendent from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, courtesy of Rep. Tim Madden.

“Truly, you’ve made an impact, and you’ve made advances for kids and parents on the Island,” Mr. Rossi added. “And they’ll feel that for years to come. So on the community’s behalf, well done.”

Judy Crawford, YMCA president of the board and chairman, recalled working with Mr. Weiss on many projects through the years, and commended him for his understanding of town politics Island-wide.

To honor Mr. Weiss’s years of service to the Y and the public schools, Ms. Crawford said, the YMCA Board and staff would award a full family membership to a deserving Island family for the 2015-16 school year in his name.

Ms. Mercier welcomed remarks from others in the audience, as well. The program also included music by “Sound Wave,” an a capella branch of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Minnesingers. Another highlight was a four-minute presentation by former high school teacher and MVTV board chairman Anne Lemenager, featuring video clips and photos of Mr. Weiss at school activities through the years.

Ms. Mercier said that part of the $25 ticket price and community donations for the event would be used to establish a student activity fund at the high school in Mr. Weiss’s name. She thanked her fellow party organizers, Barbara Jones, Sandy Joyce, Edith Rousseau, Colleen McAndrews, Skipper Manter, Lisa Reagan, Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, and Priscilla Sylvia. Ms. Mercier also recognized caterer Bernie Cormie of Herring Run Kitchens and Provisions for providing the tasty assortment of Mr. Weiss’s favorite finger foods.

“We just want people to know — we didn’t choose this menu,” Ms. Mercier noted with a laugh. “Jim doesn’t eat vegetables. Grilled cheese, burgers, pigs in a blanket: It’s all for Jim.”

In addition to many heartfelt tributes, Mr. Weiss received several gifts, including ones from each of the Island schools. At the program’s conclusion, he said he couldn’t thank everyone enough.

“I’ve loved most jobs I’ve had, but this has been a very special place, a place that really has just welcomed me and allowed to do the things that I think are important,” Mr. Weiss said. “I thank everybody from Martha’s Vineyard for that.”