High school officials consider altered fall schedule

Most significant change would be an early release date twice to four times per month.

Martha's Vineyard Regional High School principal Sara Dingledy (shown here in 2018) and other school officials are pushing for some changes to the daily and weekly schedule that would allow for additional teacher collaboration time. — Caroline Brehman

In order to provide more curriculum planning, outreach, and teacher support, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) officials are considering significant changes to the class schedule.

The most significant change for the high school would be an early release day at 12:35 pm once a week or biweekly. 

MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy stressed at Tuesday’s MVRHS school committee meeting that the instructional time for students would remain at 75 minutes per block on full days, so long as they could cut down some time during the day by adjusting lunches on early release days to grab-and-go meals, and reducing class times during those days to 73 minutes. About an hour or so of collaboration time would be built into the end of the day for teachers.

“Lots of schools use this. It is not an uncommon practice at all. Many, if not all the Cape schools I talked to have early release,” Dingledy said. “It varies from twice a month to four times a month. They often use that time to coordinate student outreach, new teacher orientation and induction, review testing data, and respond to data.”

She added that she sent out surveys to staff asking them whether they thought this would be a productive change, and received broad support for the idea.

Although the school hasn’t surveyed students, Dingledy said she has spoken with some students unofficially, and they have been supportive of the change. 

Dingledy noted that the additional time for teacher collaboration isn’t just for teachers — it benefits student learning and achievement in many ways.

Thursdays are generally sports-heavy days, when student athletes head off-Island for games, or have early practice during the afternoon. With this knowledge, Dingledy said school planners are looking at Thursdays as the most likely day for this early release schedule, although it could happen on any day, and is subject to change.

Another big change for the school would be moving Mentor Mondays — a time when students can meet with their teachers and guidance counselors to receive additional support — to Fridays.

School committee member Mike Watts wondered whether moving the mentor day to the end of the week would “change the flavor” of how that time helps students. “Would it be an end-of-the-week debrief as opposed to a beginning of the week start-off?” Watts wondered.

Dingledy said mentor meetings are most effective when they are reflective, where students have certain data points to relay to teachers and counselors. “Kids have more to talk about at the end of the week. How was your attendance? How did you do with your homework? Fridays just seem to be a better fit than Mondays for mentor meetings,” Dingledy said.

Watts noted that it might be a difficult adjustment for some families to have to consider who will stay at home during the early release days. He said that although it would be difficult to work out for some families, there are definitely some benefits to it. 

Dingledy agreed that the adjustment would take some getting used to, but highlighted the fact that teacher collaboration is “one of those first levers” that directly support student success.

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said the school needs to measure the impact this will have on the school schedule against different elements of student achievement. He said there are team-level assessments that can be utilized in the classroom to show growth, and the standardized assessments like the MCAS and SATs can also be a good determiner of higher or lower levels of student achievement.

But committee member Kris O’Brien said the matrix to measure success needs to be fully fleshed out, and then built into the proposed schedule, before officials can make a decision.

“Maybe we should get something in writing first so we will be ready for another meeting in August,” she suggested.

Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith said although he understands the pressure a proposal like this puts on school committee members, he believes Dingledy has come up with a solid plan for providing more collaborative time for teachers, while minimizing the impact it will have on student learning.

In order to add stability to the weekly schedule, officials are also considering taking the two-week rotating schedule, where classes meet every other day, and locking in specific weekly schedules where classes would meet five times over two weeks.

She said this would add much-needed stability to the schedule, as part-time employees coming in for counseling services and elective classes like strings and band often have a tough time adapting to a rotating schedule.

The school is also looking at adjusting its lunch periods in order to avoid disruption to classes that meet during the third block.

In prior years, the school had four lunch periods during the third block. Now, they are looking to have just two lunch servings — one at the beginning, and one at the end of the third block.

“We believe that would create some community-building opportunities. More kids would be off at the same time, and we could open up multiple spaces for kids to eat. The cafeteria really couldn’t handle all those kids at once, so we thought two [lunches] was a good compromise,” Dingledy said.

Bus rush

High school officials granted the use of three buses for the Chilmark Road Race on Saturday, August 14, to transport runners from the Chilmark Town Hall and the Tabor House Road parking lot to the starting line.

According to race organizer Hugh Weisman, the Vineyard Transit Authority normally provides nine buses for the road race, but COVID has reduced its available fleet, and they can only provide five buses this year.

School business administrator Mark Friedman said he would suggest charging a fee to at least cover all costs associated with providing the bus service, including recouping the cost of bus drivers, fuel, and other incidental costs. 

Committee member Skipper Manter said the high school “isn’t in the bus business,” and noted that those buses were bought with taxpayer dollars for the purpose of transporting students. “And, of course, there are liability issues,” he said.

Officials approved the request for the buses, with Manter as the only dissenting vote.

In other business, D’Andrea said the American Association of Pediatricians came out with a recommendation that all students age 2 and up wear masks when they return to school in the fall, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.

He said officials will be meeting with the health and safety committee about the matter, and will be receiving guidance from the state.

“We do have a very high vaccination rate on the Island, but we are looking at our vaccination within the student population. I have also reached out to Mirimus [Laboratories] to see what it would cost for us to continue the [COVID] testing,” D’Andrea said.