State to review MVRHS regional agreement

Committee continues countdown toward feasibility study due date.

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School is submitting its modified regional agreement to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for review. — Lucas Thors

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) is submitting a draft of the updated regional agreement to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for review. 

For months, school committee members and other MVRHS officials have worked to figure out a funding formula that all six Island towns can agree to in order to pay for a comprehensive school rebuild. Apart from other language that was modified in the regional agreement, the issue of the funding formula is tied to the school’s goal of receiving a significant financial contribution from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for a brand-new building. 

In order to move forward in the process of receiving state funding (potentially up to 40 percent of overall construction costs), the MSBA wants to see that Island towns can reach an amicable understanding of who is going to pay for what. The funding formula that allocates costs of capital projects lives within the regional agreement, so it is necessary for school officials to finalize the agreement as soon as possible.

School attorney Nancy Campany said the only substantive change to the agreement since the previous committee discussion is the inclusion of the capital funding formula provided by the working group. The working group consisted of town and school representatives, and was tasked with figuring out an appropriate apportionment of cost, then making a recommendation to the school committee. 

Campany suggested the school committee vote to authorize Superintendent Richie Smith and herself to submit the regional agreement to DESE for review. As DESE combs through the document and makes recommendations (or simply recommends approval), Smith and Campany will work with them to come to a final version that meets whatever additional requirements the state may have. 

“There may be some back-and-forth with DESE, then the school committee will vote on the final form that comes back,” Campany said. “Then it will be submitted for special town meetings for approval by various member towns.” Upon approval, the agreement is then submitted to the commissioner of education, Jeff Riley. To Campany’s knowledge, the commissioner has never refused an agreement that was approved in an informal manner by DESE representatives.

Campany explained that conventionally, DESE works with one or two point people (the superintendent and others) to move the process forward, but occasionally some school committees will form a subcommittee to work with DESE. 

Smith said the school is working under a deadline of 270 days until a feasibility study for a facilities rebuild must be approved by townspeople. But by the end of the month, Smith said, he wants to give some indication to the MSBA regarding progress with the regional agreement, and how the school can get voters behind it. “This needs to get to DESE as soon as possible,” Smith said. 

Smith noted that DESE’s review of the document could be quick and simple, or it could take months, depending on how clean and correct the document they submit is. “I think it’s very clean,” Smith said. A motion by committee chair Robert Lionette to recommend authorizing Smith and Campany to submit the agreement to DESE for review was approved.



Committee members also looked at some of the district goals along with objectives contained in the school improvement plan, and how the school can work toward those in an efficient way. “Let’s look at the district goals defined by the superintendent, and look at our responsibilities surrounding policy and budget,” Lionette said. He pointed out some examples of long-held ambitions of the school, such as exploring more effective modalities for delivery of education, the potential for a brick-and-mortar mental health clinic at the school, and how to increase access to and participation in sports programs. 

Lionette briefly mentioned professional development for teachers at the high school through the Harkness method of education created by Phillips Exeter Academy. The method involves 12 students and one teacher sitting around at an oval table and discussing the subject at hand, according to the Phillips Exeter website. The model is meant to encourage discussion and direct interaction between teachers and students, and foster a student-led learning environment. 

Another focus Lionette touched on was the need and potential function of a mental health clinic at the high school. “This is something we have talked about, and we have begun to populate the support necessary for this initiative,” Lionette said. “This area has been committed to by the committee in its budget, but we have a responsibility to know where that growth is.”

A third aim of the school committee and the district goals is to find ways to best support athletic teams, coaches, and families whose students participate in athletic programs (about two-thirds of students at the high school participate in sports). 

Committee member Kim Kirk said she has recently been investigating how other similar schools handle their athletics. “A number of schools have an athletics subcommittee, which is composed of the athletic director as well as school committee members,” Kirk said. “The group helps guide and support athletic programing through things like an assessment of participation numbers per sport, the rotation of uniforms, and the funding that supports that, and equipment needs for the different teams.” She also mentioned the benefit of having a group that could ensure compliance with certain Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association standards, and develop policy surrounding sports. 

Lionette said this is the first time an idea like this has been presented to the committee, and suggested creating an ad hoc subcommittee to mull some of these ideas over the next month, until the beginning of the school year. Kirk said she would like to be a part of the committee, and would work with athletic director Mark McCarthy with those goals in mind. 


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