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Steedman: ‘Buildings don’t make schools, people do’

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Steedman: ‘Buildings don’t make schools, people do’
MVPCS board liaison Steve Nierenberg, left, and Charter School director Peter Steedman talk during the open house reception. — Gabrielle Mannino

For Peter Steedman, his job as Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School’s new director is more than just a simple occupation — it’s a calling.

Steedman is taking over for founding director Bob Moore, who recently retired after 20 years at the school.

At an open house for parents and students at the Charter School Tuesday, Steedman told the Times that Moore’s powerful legacy will live on at the school and serve as the basis for many further improvements to both academics and the facility.

Moore was a trusted member of the community — serving as not only a guide and support to students and teachers, but a close friend as well.

Steedman said he hopes to accommodate students, teachers, and faculty in the same way.

“I love this school,” Steedman said. “This is my dream job.”

He listed a few pillars that have guided the school’s interaction with students: trust, responsibility, freedom, cooperation, democracy, selflessness, authenticity, and empathy.

Steedman thanked the many groups and individuals that helped create such a warm and special community.

“Thank you so much to Options in Education for being committed to the success of the Charter School,” Steedman said.

Head of Options in Education Charlotte Costa has been working with the school since 1994 to provide alternative education options to local families. The shared goal of Options in Education and the school is to offer a more self-directed approach to learning that encourages each child’s individual interests and learning style. “Kids learn in lots of different ways,” Steedman said. “We try to highlight the different talents and skills they have, and encourage that enthusiasm.”

Costa said that during the search for a new director, she could find no better fit for the job than Steedman.

“Based on his professional experience and his history, we know we are lucky to have Peter as our new director,” Costa said.

Steedman said he knew from an early age that he wanted to teach. Originally from Michigan, he served as principal of the middle and high schools of Escola Americana de Campinas, an international school in Brazil, and as high school principal of Sturgis Charter Public School, and he has been a history teacher in Miami, Norwell, the Netherlands, and Australia. He holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Boston College, an M.A.T. in history from Columbia University Teachers College, and a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Skidmore College.

Aside from his professional experience, Steedman’s passion for students and individualized instruction is what he said makes this his dream job. “I have always taken a different approach to teaching,” Steedman said. He explained that part of the Charter School’s success is the fact they do things differently. “We really try to tailor-fit the educational experience for each student,” Steedman said. “We don’t teach stuff, we teach kids.”

Steedman explained how some kids need a hands-on approach to learning, as opposed to sitting in a chair and filling out a worksheet.

Brendan Donnelly, a ninth grade student at the Charter School, said his experience at the school has been immensely positive, and he has formed long-lasting bonds with both fellow students and caring faculty. “The Charter School has given me an opportunity to express my feelings, and has provided different ways of thinking,” Brendan said. Brendan, who previously went to Edgartown School, explained how the intensively structured methods he experienced at the school hindered him from exploring his interests and branching out.

“From block structure to having your own plate and saying, ‘Fill it up yourself,’” Brendan said. “I am so thankful for this place and these people.”

Brendan also said every interaction he has at the Charter School is a “connection with another human being,” which he greatly appreciates.

Another Charter School student, 11th grader Aubrey Taylor, who also went to Edgartown School, said she appreciates that teachers and faculty try to engage students in different activities and make sure everyone is included. She talked about how, instead of just memorizing vocabulary words in Spanish, students act out plays with different wigs and costumes. “Students don’t just sit down at a desk all day, they are really moving around and doing fun and interesting things,” Aubrey said. “I am able to be myself.”

Some improvements made to the Charter School facility include a new central air conditioning system and a double-door entry to the building. Many of these additions were made possible by South Mountain, a fully integrated architecture, engineering, building, and renewable energy firm.

“We never had air conditioning in here before,” said vice president of the Charter School board Steve Nierenberg. “We are thankful to all the people at South Mountain for the hot days they spent in here working.”

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