As students and teachers return to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) for full-time, in-person education, a pilot program is underway that provides staff with a weekly opportunity to collaborate with their colleagues.
The pilot takes Monday’s regular flex lunch period, which allows students to meet directly with teachers to receive support, and creates a block of time where teachers can meet with colleagues, conduct internal development, and plan for educational initiatives.
“Especially in this COVID year, with the amount of work the teachers were doing on their own to manage this transition, this is a way we can have teachers thinking forward to next year, and tackle some of the departmental work and school-based work that needs to get done,” MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy said at Monday’s school committee meeting.
During the teacher collaboration time on Monday, which begins after last period concludes at 12:35 pm, students are dismissed, although they are allowed to stay in supervised study areas if they desire.
Teachers can also perform direct outreach to students who choose to stay in the building for the teacher development block, and students who choose to go home for the remainder of the day can access direct support from their teachers through Zoom.
Staff are dismissed from the development block at 2:15 pm.
Committee member Amy Houghton wondered how this schedule change would affect transportation, and how students with disabilities, students who play sports, and students who don’t have vehicles would be able to get home before the regular bus runs at the end of the day.
Dingledy reiterated that students can choose to stay in the supervised learning areas if they have sports in the afternoon, or want to work on homework with a teacher.
She noted that bus transportation on Mondays would happen before the elementary and middle schools let out, so there would be no interruptions in service to high schoolers.
According to Dingledy, the MVRHS reopening committee was considering this pilot program due to an assessment that showed the immense need for teacher collaboration and student outreach. “It is common practice in other schools — you can see the impact in what happens with schooling, education, and cohesion. This is one of those test runs to see how we can give teachers the time to plan and collaborate,” Dingledy said.
Houghton voiced concern that the schedule change was not first brought to the committee before being implemented. “I certainly have heard from parents that they aren’t terribly thrilled that this came at this time right after COVID,” Houghton said.
Committee member Kris O’Brien said she was also confused to hear that the schedule change was a pilot program, and not a temporary alteration due to COVID. “It’s confusing to me to see that it’s a pilot at a time when I think there is enough change happening for people,” O’Brien said. “It isn’t that I’m not open and curious about it as a change in program and scheduling — it’s the timing of it. For me and the kids, this return was going to be going back to something familiar, when it was yet again another change. I guess it’s where you are in your mindset, that there have been so many changes, so what’s another one?”
Dingledy stressed that the conversation surrounding the pilot will be ongoing, and its success will be closely monitored.
MVRHS is in need of a comprehensive technology overhaul, but with Tisbury looking to foot the bill for a new school at this year’s town meeting, the town has requested that the high school reduce its request for the major infrastructure project.
The overall cost of the project currently sits at approximately $657,000, but the high school is now looking to ask towns for about $311,000. Before reducing the amount for this year, Tisbury was looking at a $180,000 contribution obligation for the tech project at MVRHS.
“Tisbury has requested that due to the fact that they have a heavy load on their warrant moneywise for a new school, if we would entertain the idea of doing the tech project in smaller pieces. That would allow them to vote a smaller share,” Superintendent Matt D’Andrea explained.
For the high school to accomplish this, they will look to amend the warrant articles and reduce the requested amounts for the project at each town meeting floor, based on the Islandwide cost-sharing formula.
Information technology staff person for MVRHS Rick Mello said that by breaking the project in half, the school would be spreading out the cost over two years, but the overall cost would be “slightly increased.”
D’Andrea stressed the importance of making it clear to towns that this is only the first piece of the overall project cost — the second piece will have to be voted on the following year.
He added that if the school does not lower the cost by splitting it in half, it is unlikely the warrant will pass in Tisbury.
One additional complication, O’Brien noted, is the fact that Oak Bluffs has already voted on the previously established tech infrastructure amount as a ballot question, and the funding must be approved by both a ballot vote and a town meeting vote in order to pass.
It is unusual for a town to hold elections before a town meeting, but Oak Bluffs decided to postpone the meeting until later on due to COVID restrictions impinging on their ability to accommodate town voters.
According to D’Andrea, because the high school is lowering the amount and not raising it, he doesn’t see it being a procedural issue for Oak Bluffs, although he said he would check with legal counsel, and work with the towns on any questions or concerns going forward.
A motion to amend the existing request to the towns down to $311,000 was unanimously approved, with the condition that language describing the change in scope, and the need for a future vote for the remaining work, would be required in the warrant articles.