ACE MV will offer master’s degree program to Island teachers

Sam Hart at a recent high school meeting. — Photo by Cathryn McCann

As Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) continues to expand, the continuing-education organization is bringing new services and opportunities to the Island. In January, ACE MV will offer a master’s in education for Curriculum and Teaching through Fitchburg State University’s (FSU) extended campus. The program is the first of its kind for the Island, and, if successful, may open the door for similar continuing-education programs.

Executive Director Sam Hart said that when he took over the position a year and a half ago, he noticed that ACE MV was offering graduate-level courses through FSU for teachers on the Vineyard. Lynn Ditchfield, his predecessor, had started the relationship with FSU four years earlier. It allowed teachers to get their professional development points, a necessary requirement to maintaining their state licensure.

Mr. Hart realized there might be further need. In the state of Massachusetts, teachers continuing in their jobs for more than five years must obtain professional licensure, which requires a master’s degree.

He thought there might be enough Island teachers who needed a master’s, not just points, and developing a program with FSU was worth exploring.

In fall 2014, he called FSU and initiated discussions. At that time, he knew there would be interest, but was worried there wouldn’t be enough.

“When we were thinking of this, we thought, Well, what if no one signs up?” he said. “Critical mass is 22 students. What if only 15 students sign up?”

But he pushed forward with the process, along with interim high school Principal Peg Regan. They created a budget, developed a group of interested participants, created a curriculum and a syllabus, and had Island teachers vetted to teach classes within the program. By spring 2015, they knew they had a “fairly good amount of teachers who needed their professional licensure.”

Mr. Hart received the results of a survey distributed within the school district which indicated that 45 teachers might be interested in professional licensure. He thinks about 32 will participate from that group.

Elaine Francis, FSU coordinator for the M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching program, told The Times she was very excited about the enthusiasm on the Island for this new program.

“When they talked with us about the possibility of a master’s program, we said, Oh, we’ll give it a shot,” she said. “We were not prepared for the overwhelming enthusiasm.”

Last month, she spent time on the Island meeting individually with interested participants.

“The stories that we’re hearing from the potential students are very heartwarming,” she said. “We’re excited to be able to meet a need that is clearly so evident.”

She said many potential students talked about how difficult it is to maintain their licensure while living on the Island.

“Being mainlanders, we don’t recognize the journey it takes to get to a college class,” she said. “And online learning is OK, but we have a nice mix of that in this program.”

Mr. Hart said the difficulty for teachers to continue their education while living and working on the Vineyard was the main reason for creating the program.

“There was a perception that the Vineyard is a place where not a lot of stuff goes on, and it’s just a summer resort and everyone is taken care of,” he said. He has to remind people that there is a large population of year-round, working-class residents on the Island.

The program means that working teachers will not have to leave the Island or their families. The two-year program will start in January 2016; half the courses will be taught online by FSU professionals, and half will be taught on the Vineyard by FSU-vetted Island teachers. The cost will be about $932 per three-credit course, “which is unheard-of,” Mr. Hart said. “It’s ridiculously cheap.” In addition, any teacher in the school system who needs professional licensure can get up to half of it paid for by the school system.

The program is a benefit for the Island school system as well. Mr. Hart said it will save the district “tens of thousands of dollars.”

“What they normally do is they pay for a teacher to go off-Island, take a much more expensive course, stay overnight, and pay for the sub to come in and teach the class while they’re gone,” he said. Now, teachers will stay on-Island, and take courses far more inexpensively than in the past.

The program could also have an immediate benefit for Vineyard public school students. Mr. Hart said they hope to have a summer lab where the teachers, because they need a practicum portion, would teach Island students in need of remedial help in subjects such as math and reading.

Mr. Hart said that if all goes well, he hopes to expand the partnership with FSU to include more dual-enrollment opportunities for high school juniors and seniors, more college-credit courses for nontraditional learners, and associate degrees for those on a path toward other professional licensures in the community.

“This is the direction that ACE MV wants to be in: In addition to the enrichment classes we run, we want to provide the Island’s workforce — the Island’s professionals — with the continuing education and professional development they need to maintain their licensure and to maintain their jobs,” he said. “We want to build the expectation in our community that this can be a hub for intellectual activity, for learning, and for professional development.”

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