Martha's Vineyard school leaders prepare for the new school year

The 2015–16 school year begins with ambitious plans and new leadership.

In this photo taken on the last day of school, from left, Porter Moehnke, Jack Marshard, Kevin Madeira, Brayden Scheffer, and Antone Moreis were all smiles as they anticipated summer vacation. Now it is time to return. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The Martha’s Vineyard 2015–16 school year that begins on Tuesday will be accompanied by a number of changes in leadership posts that will combine the familiar with the new.

On July 1, Matthew D’Andrea assumed his responsibilities as the new superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, following the retirement of James Weiss. Oak Bluffs Principal Richie Smith was selected to fill Mr. D’Andrea’s former job as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

John Rizzo moved from Springfield to the Island to be the new principal of the Oak Bluffs School.

Retired Regional High School Principal Margaret “Peg” Regan took the helm at the high school on a one-year interim basis last month, following the unexpected resignation of Principal Gil Traverso one year into his three-year contract.

In preparation for the start of the new school year, The Times emailed Mr. D’Andrea and asked him to describe his goals for this year, and any changes he might make. School principals were asked to briefly describe what’s new this year. Their responses are excerpted below.

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea

“There is much work to be accomplished this year,” Superintendent D’Andrea said. “Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith and I will be working closely with the staff to ensure our students receive a quality education. We will build on the district’s work aligning the curriculum around the Common Core State Standards, specifically in the area of writing.”

Mr. D’Andrea said the focus will be on three types of writing: narrative, informational, and persuasive. He and Mr. Smith will work with teachers on the challenges this curriculum presents.

Additionally, Mr. D’Andrea said, the Island schools will begin the process of integrating new science and technology/engineering standards, scheduled for official adoption this year, into their science curriculum.

“Finally, we want to provide teachers with time to collaborate around curriculum, student needs, and instructional practices,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “Teacher collaboration is a valuable means of both school and district-based professional development.”

Facilities upgrades at the high school, Tisbury School, and the superintendent’s office also will continue to be explored, he said.

Among other tasks Mr. D’Andrea said he would address this year is negotiating new contracts with the bargaining units for teachers, educational support professionals, secretaries, custodians, and food service workers.

He and his staff are in the process of reviewing proposals for a needs assessment of the shared-services program. Operated and budgeted through the superintendent’s office, the shared-services program primarily supports special education, as well as other programs provided to students in five school districts Island-wide.

“Lastly, time will be dedicated to meeting with stakeholders from across the Island, not only students, parents, staff, and school committee members, but selectmen, finance committees, and other town leaders and community members,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “The time spent with these individuals will be used to discuss the needs of the district, and together with an analysis of district data, contribute to the development of a strategic plan for moving the district forward.”

Chilmark School

“We are having a lot of work done on the building, with 30-plus windows and seven doors being replaced, so cleaning is top on our getting-ready-for-school checklist,” Head of School Susan Stevens said.

The school has a new art teacher, Mariah MacGregor, and will offer a new part-time math enrichment program led by Jed Katch, Ms. Stevens added. Depending on students’ needs this year, Mr. Katch may also work with those who need some additional instruction, she said.

Ms. Stevens was named head of Chilmark School in 2009, and joined her husband, John Stevens, on Martha’s Vineyard, where he had been hired as Edgartown School’s principal in 2007. She previously worked as an exceptional-student education coordinator at a middle school in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Edgartown School

Hiring new personnel to handle changes in the number of classes at Edgartown School topped Principal John Steven’s back-to-school to-do list. Due to an increase in first grade enrollment, Mr. Stevens added a third class over the summer, and selected Deb Grant, a kindergarten teacher last year, to teach the new class.

The advancement of three third grade classes from last year also made it necessary to add another fourth grade class. Ryan Leandro is beginning his teaching career as the new fourth grade class’s teacher.

Other personnel changes include Cindy Smith, a third grade teacher who retired after 26 years of service at Edgartown School. Head custodian Mike Lynch also retired, after 29 years at the school. “We wish both Cindy and Mike the very best in their retirement,” Mr. Stevens said. Custodian Dwight Kaeka has been promoted to head custodian, and Stanley Price hired as a custodian to replace Mr. Kaeka.

Mr. Stevens, a graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, is starting his ninth school year as Edgartown School’s principal. He previously served as a high school principal in Lantana, Fla.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School

Interim Principal Margaret “Peg” Regan, principal from 1999 to 2008, is back in a familiar seat for one year.

“One of the biggest changes for students entering school this year is the positive student disciplinary system, which rewards and recognizes students for attendance in classes and meeting behavioral standards set forth in the handbook,” Ms. Regan said. “All students begin the school year as ‘Students of Merit.’ By maintaining good conduct and attendance in school, they continue in merit status throughout the year.

“For students interested in the media, a new student-run radio station will begin broadcasting from MVRHS this year. On the student government front, this year each homeroom will elect representatives to the principal and student council for their class.

“The staff is excited to begin the year with the entering class of 2019, the experienced 10th grade class of 2018, the remarkable 11th grade class of 2017, and the amazingly talented senior class of 2016,” Ms. Regan concluded.

Oak Bluffs School

John Rizzo formerly served as the principal at Milton Bradley Elementary School.

As an enhancement to the school’s weekly community celebrations this year, Mr. Rizzo said one student from each homeroom will be selected and honored as a “shining star.” The schoolwide event is held every Friday at 8:30 am.

“Parents, grandparents, and friends are always welcome to share in our school-wide celebration of academics, the arts, and athletics, with a message or two, a boatload of laughter and song, maybe a dance, and the honoring of our weekly ‘Shining Stars,’ all led by a different class each week,” Mr. Rizzo said. “We will continue to unconditionally love and educate the whole child at Oak Bluffs School in spirit, mind, and body, and look forward to a great year together.”

In a follow-up phone conversation, Mr. Rizzo said he is currently conducting structured interviews with every paid faculty and staff member. Among the standardized questions, he asks everyone what they think are the school’s two top strengths and its two top challenges, one change they would make right now, and what they think he should do as an administrator. Mr. Rizzo said he plans to report the results in February.

Tisbury School

Tisbury School Principal John Custer says he is looking forward to welcoming students for what promises to be “another spirited, positive year.”

One of the school’s initiatives this year is to research new math programs for potential adoption next year. Mr. Custer said the effort was launched by a team of Tisbury School teachers after they attended the National Council of Teacher of Mathematics Conference in Boston last April.

“Identifying appropriate curricular programs for a K-8 school can be challenging, so we will be thorough and thoughtful during this process,” he said. “Some other schools on the Island have recently gone through the process, so we will use their experiences as a resource.”

In addition, Mr. Custer said, teacher-led curriculum teams for English language arts and science are working together to ensure that students in all grades are offered appropriate challenging learning objectives in each of the disciplines, including math. The school also continues to move forward with technology improvements, and purchased a third mobile-laptop cart this summer for use in classrooms throughout the building.

“Finally, as our building continues to show signs of age and we look to make best use of the space, the school committee and administration are considering how to truly meet students’ needs,” Mr. Custer said, particularly those identified in a comprehensive facilities study done in 2012. “Addressing these, and ensuring that the school is a safe, secure, and appropriate learning environment for children, will require collaboration with and support from town leaders. We enthusiastically look forward to moving ahead in this area.”

Now in his fifth year as principal, Mr. Custer continues his longstanding history with Tisbury School as a student, teacher, and administrator.

West Tisbury School

Many West Tisbury School staff members participated in professional development training over the summer in preparation for launching several exciting new programs and program expansions this fall, Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt said.

In addition to expanding the school’s math enrichment program, new enrichment programs in English language arts and technology will be offered. A concentrated reading intervention and enrichment program will be implemented every morning for all students in the first and second grades. A newly adopted Math in Focus curriculum will be expanded to the sixth grade.

The school also will implement phase two of the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence programming, which was started last year, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said. The second phase involves integrating a curriculum called “Feeling Words” into a wide range of subject areas.

An ongoing project to raise funds for a much-needed playground renovation will continue this year, with over $100,000 raised so far, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt noted.

“This is a great start in helping us to achieve our overall goal,” she said. “We hope to raise the remaining necessary funds through both fundraising and our budget to build a new West Tisbury School playground for the school and community next summer.”

Now starting her third consecutive year as principal, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt previously served as the director of student support services on the superintendent’s staff, and as principal and assistant principal of West Tisbury School.

Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School

The 2015-16 school year will be a pivotal one at the Charter School, Director Robert Moore reports.

“The school is celebrating its 20th year by undergoing a self-reflection and visionary discussion with all members of the school community to examine the school’s first 20 years and determine our vision for the school’s next 20 years,” Mr. Moore said in an email.

The discussion kicks off as school opens this week, and will continue throughout the year.

“We plan on celebrating our 20th year each and every day, and we wish to take the opportunity to thank all students, families, and staff members who have supported us during our first 20 years,” Mr. Moore said.

This fall the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will begin performing the school’s five-year charter renewal process, which involves visiting the school, examining its mission and academic program, and speaking with students, teachers, parents, and the board of trustees.

“The school community looks forward to engaging in conversation about the work being performed at the school, and receiving objective and informative feedback,” Mr. Moore said.

Also, final touches are being put on a new science lab that will open in 2016.

“This is an exciting time for the Charter School, and we are looking ahead to the journey forward,” Mr. Moore, who is starting his 18th year as director, said.