Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) is hiring Hope MacLeod as the sole director of student support services — a change made by the All-Island School Committee at their meeting Thursday.
Originally, MacLeod served as co-director, and was in charge of student support services for grades 8-12, while co-director Nancy Dugan was tasked with students in grades K-7.
But now Dugan is eyeing retirement at the beginning of July, and the school system has decided to revert back to a single-director model moving forward.
In 2015, the two-director model was introduced because of significant challenges surrounding consistency and level of support in the special education program.
“We had gone through a number of directors, there was lots of turnover,” Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said at the meeting. “That inconsistency was really detrimental to our program.”
Over the past five years, MVPS has had educational consultant Jim Shillinglaw conduct evaluations on all the Island school educational programs, including special education.
From those evaluations, the schools created a task force to implement his recommendations.
D’Andrea added that the Massachusetts Department of Education conducted program reviews, and out of those the schools created a corrective plan.
MVPS organized its shared services, moved the Compass program to the Oak Bluffs School, and implemented the Bridge program at the Edgartown and West Tisbury schools, in order to better support student needs.
MacLeod and Dugan also hosted informational forums, worked on re-establishing the Island Parent Advisory Council on special education, and updated policies and procedures throughout the district, D’Andrea said.
But with Dugan set to retire, D’Andrea said, he thinks now is a good opportunity to make the change.
With MacLeod holding her position for six years, and being an integral part of a number of major special education and student support service projects, D’Andrea said she has a “tremendous amount of experience,” and with the current level of uncertainty for schools brought on by COVID, he stressed that consistency is key.
“We know Hope,” D’Andrea said. “This is someone who brings a commitment to the position, the experience, she knows the community, and she knows our families.”
Although she fully supports MacLeod for the position, committee member Kate DeVane wondered whether MVPS needs to go through the public hiring process and establish a search committee before choosing MacLeod.
D’Andrea explained that it is the charge of the superintendent to recommend someone for the position, and the committee’s job to approve or deny the hire.
He added that the school committee only hires the superintendent, and clarified that the position has been posted, but only because the teacher contract stipulates that all positions that would be considered a promotion or advancement need to be posted.
“Anyone in our teachers’ union can apply if they want to, but it does not need to be posted outside of that,” D’Andrea said, and noted that MacLeod was the only applicant, and doesn’t think there needs to be a search committee.
Committee member Lisa Regan said she trusts the recommendation of the superintendent, and she trusts that MacLeod is the right person for the job.
Member Alex Salop agreed, and said that although he understands the procedural implications, he doesn’t think “this should be a particularly controversial issue.”
The vote to revert to the single-director model passed unanimously. In a separate vote, all committee members voted to hire MacLeod, except for Robert Lionette (who voted nay), and Kate DeVane (who abstained).
DeVane said she abstained because she is not certain that the school is using proper procedure. “If we have till July, I think it’s important we don’t do this incorrectly, given the possibility that if someone else wanted the job, they could find fault in the way we did it,” she said.
D’Andrea said he brought the hiring matter to Jim Hardy of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, who told him that the superintendent manages the hiring process, and makes a recommendation. “They do not run the hiring process,” D’Andrea said of Hardy’s response.
DeVane said she still thinks the schools should check with their legal counsel.
Committee member Skipper Manter quashed the debate and ushered the meeting along, stressing how unusual it is to rehash deliberation in the middle of a vote.
“It’s just unheard of, and I think it is inappropriate. If someone wants to make a motion to reconsider, they can, but we need to clear this up immediately,” he said.
No motion to reconsider was made.