A generous dose of sweetness and light, some angst around MCAS results, and some moments of sadness were observed at the regular monthly meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Committee Monday afternoon.
Which was good since the next meeting of the evening — a 6 pm discussion of the Island’s regional school funding formula, though it was informative, would be neither sweet, light, nor brief.
At the afternoon session, MVRHS Principal Sarah Dingledy offered a review of her students’ performance in the revamped MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). The test has produced head-scratching around the state.
The committee also changed the time of Thursday’s high school budget committee meeting to 2:30 pm from a later time, to accommodate conflicts including MVRHS homecoming events.
Jackson Wojnowski, MVRHS junior class vice president, told the committee that the Tisbury School middle schoolers are having a good experience at the high school, that the high school community enjoys their presence, and that the two groups interact well. The Tisbury middle schoolers are using high school facilities for learning while their school is under remediation for lead paint.
In fact, as Wojnowski reported, the early going is pretty positive at MVRHS, including positive reviews for the school lunch menu to date, an achievement of note among a demographic that is historically picky nationwide about its school lunch choices.
The committee unanimously approved the establishment of two new scholarships and contributions to them. The family of Davin Tackabury, a 17-year-old MVRHS student who died unexpectedly several months ago, requested approval to establish a onetime, arts-related Davin Tackabury Scholarship,
And longtime Island musician and voice and instrument teacher Will Luckey had requested a memorial scholarship be set up in his name for the student “who exhibits the most heart and passion for their art.”
The MVRHS school committee accepted, with obvious regret, the retirement papers of MVRHS Englih teacher William (“Bill”) McCarthy, who will retire at academic year-end after 22 years at MVRHS.
A new student acknowledgement program got the attention of the committee, and was explained by Jeremy Light, assistant MVRHS principal for student affairs. “It’s an idea brought back to us by Jsson Neago [MVRHS science teacher and assistant football coach], who was teaching in Japan this summer and watched it work,” Light said. The program involves staff noticing acts of kindness and good character by students in and outside the classroom. Faculty and staff carry postcards with them on which they describe selfless acts that they witness. They then put a stamp on the postcard and mail it to the student’s home. About 180 postcards were mailed last Friday, Light noted. The postcard practice has been added to the agenda of faculty meetings, Dingledy said.
Dingledy reported improvement in attendance this year. Low attendance has been chafing MVRHS officials for years, and remedial policies were put in place last year. Dindledy also reported that efforts to improve parent turnout for parent-teacher consulting nights had a positive bump recently when the event included a barbecue at which students, parents, and MVRHS staff could meet and mingle in a social environment.
Noting the changes in the MCAS testing model has produced some disappointing results when viewed through the lens of historic testing techniques, Dingledy looked at areas of improvements, including science for some students subsets. “The results clearly show a difference in scoring results between economically disadvantaged and families with English as a second language, and economically healthy, mostly white families,” she said.
Improvement is the mantra under the new testing methodology, Dingledy said, “and reading is a skill in which we can make great improvement,” she told the committee to enthusiastic response by members Robert Lionette and Janet Packer.
The nexus of reading proficiency appears to be in elementary years, grades 1 through 4, “when kids are learning to read, and before [grades 5 to 8] they are reading to learn,” as Packer put it, adding, “I bet if we looked at [high school] kids on IPs (improvement plans), we would find a lot of kids with reading issues.”
After listening to comments, Lionette proposed that “we expand our exploration of reading proficiency to include all the Island schools” as a way to increase reading proficiency among incoming high school students in the future.
Dingledy said expansion would be a consideration as the reading improvement program is developed.