Martha’s Vineyard high school aims for inclusive student community

Principal Sara Dingledy told the school committee she looks forward to answers from a task force on bullying and discrimination.

Principal Sara Dingledy, shown here in 2017, is suggesting students return to more in-person learning Jan. 11. - File photo

School administrators updated the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) school committee Monday on efforts to address recent complaints of bullying and discrimination targeting children of immigrant families.

Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea reported that he met with the All-Island School Committee (AISC) on Feb. 23 to discuss community concerns raised by members of We Stand Together (WST), a grassroots Island group formed after the election to promote civic engagement, inclusion, and tolerance. Mr. D’Andrea told the AISC he had heard about the rise of bullying, hate speech, and discrimination across the Island from worried parents and residents at a community meeting WST held at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School on Feb. 19.

In response, the superintendent recommended that the AISC form a task force with school administrators and representatives from the Brazilian community to develop a “safe zone” resolution for all students Island-wide. The resolution would be tailored to Vineyard schools, and reinforce policies and procedures already in effect.

During a public comment session at Monday’s high school committee meeting, WST volunteer Joy Robinson-Lynch, a former guidance counselor at the West Tisbury School, said the group wanted to learn about the high school administration’s and high school committee’s responses to the AISC meeting. She now works as a consultant to school systems and social service agencies as a managing partner at Path Consulting, she told The Times in a phone conversation Tuesday.

MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy, who answered Ms. Robinson-Lynch first, said she is excited about the possibility of a task force being formed and what information it might provide.

“The one thing I would say is, I believe that if we’re truly going to respond in a way I think is thoughtful and reflective and the most appropriate way, we’ll be thinking about how we can be an inclusive community for all students,” Ms. Dingledy said. “As we think about how we can build community, a lot of that doesn’t just come through policies and protocols, it comes through culture building and developing that type of community, training teachers to do that, and training students to know what that means.”

Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Healthcare Access Program, is working with Ms. Robinson-Lynch, in an unofficial capacity as a WST volunteer, on safety and inclusion policies. She said WST is hoping for some collaboration from the schools on a similar nonbullying and educational approach for LGBTQ students, as well as immigrant students, to the one that is already in place, and also the adoption of a policy on that at some point.

“Students use the restroom and locker room of the gender that they identify with, and that doesn’t change, no matter what’s changing in terms of policies from above,” Ms. Dingledy noted. “That is what we do, that is how we practice it; that hasn’t changed.”

“We’re ready to work with you,” Ms. Robinson-Lynch said, “and offer expertise on not just how to have appropriate policies and not just how to implement appropriate policies that are about what happens if a problem occurs, but how do you build a just school and how do you build a school where every child feels comfortable and included.”

Robert Lionette, the MVRHS school committee chairman and member of the Up-Island Regional School District committee, asked about the status of the task force. Mr. D’Andrea said a letter would go out on Tuesday to all students’ families, summarizing the AISC meeting. He added that Leah Palmer, English Language Learner (ELL) director of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, is at work putting the task force together.

“We have a number of school committee members and teachers who are interested in serving on the committee, and Leah is currently working on communicating with the Brazilian community and the tribe in Aquinnah to get representatives,” he said. “We hope to have that together by the end of the week, and possible dates to have a first meeting.”

Mr. Lionette suggested that Ms. Palmer seek task force representatives from other community organizations as well, such as the NAACP, which have participated in addressing school issues in the past.

‘Student Spotlight’

This month’s “Student Spotlight” featured senior Gavin Leuenberger, named the high school’s outstanding vocational/technical student of the year. The annual award, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators and the Massachusetts Vocational Association, honors students whose scholastic and vocational/technical achievements have significantly contributed to their local school district.

Gavin has participated in the horticultural program for three years. He currently works at Thimble Farm, through the high school’s cooperative education program, in hydroponic food growing. Gavin plans to attend Northwestern Michigan College’s landscape management program.

Other business

Facilities manager Michael Taus reported that Cape Light Compact (CLC) has proposed a project to retrofit 1,945 light fixtures and lamps, mostly fluorescent technology, with new LED replacements. Although the estimated cost of the materials and labor is about $250,000, the CLC board has approved funding the project 100 percent from funds derived from the compact’s energy-efficiency funds. CLC estimates the project will save the high school $48,393 per year.

Margaret Song, CLC’s commercial and industrial program manager, presented the proposal to the high school committee’s building subcommittee at an earlier meeting Monday. She said CLC hopes to begin the project around July 1, and that CLC’s contractor, RISE Engineering, has agreed to subcontract work to local contractors.

In other business, the school committee voted to approve four new student clubs: a Garden Club, Power-Lifting Club, Theater Club, and Interact Club; and to accept “with great gratitude” a grant for $1,500 from the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center for the school’s mindfulness meditation program.

The school committee voted to go into executive session at 6:30 pm, and did not return to open session.