Up-Island prepares for the upcoming school year

School projects move forward. 

The Chilmark School. — MV Times

The Up-Island Regional School District is preparing for the upcoming school year, which begins for all Martha’s Vineyard public schools on Sept. 6. A part of each school’s planning and concerns were shared during an Up-Island School Committee meeting Monday evening. 

Chilmark School Principal Susan Stevens and West Tisbury School Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt both shared with the committee an update of the ongoing school improvement plan being made with the school advisory committee. At school committee member Robert Lionette’s request, Stevens shared some goals of the plan for Chilmark, which include fostering inclusivity, welcomeness, and engaging with the community. Stevens also listed a variety of goals to improve student enrichment and learning results, such as using “creative scheduling,” which recognizes that some students come in to school early and others stay late, and “progress monitoring,” which would “drive instruction,” rather than just be used for reporting. 

Lowell-Bettencourt said the goals of this year’s improvement plan will be similar to last year’s, such as “promoting students’ social and emotional well-being” and “building that home-school connection.” She said this will be presented in full by the school advisory committee in September. She also said more community members have “stepped up” to join the advisory committee.

There are also cooperative efforts between Chilmark School and West Tisbury School for their improvement plans. One is researching whether a universal preschool program would be possible, and working toward recognition as a Green Ribbon School. As an example of activities toward Green Ribbon School recognition, Stevens said, Chilmark School does composting, and her fifth graders are monitoring the building’s electrical use. Samuel Hall, a member of West Tisbury School’s Green Ribbon School subcommittee, said there has been a lot of planning for this goal and bringing more sustainability habits to the school. Lowell-Bettencourt said the subcommittee’s work will also coincide with West Tisbury School’s efforts to reach net-zero emissions. 

Lionette said he still had a lot of comments left, but he felt the meeting was not “the appropriate venue” to say all of them. However, he did mention a few at the request of Up-Island committee chair Alex Salop, such as enrichment and remediation being already something that is done, rather than a goal. Lionette did approve of the progress monitoring to better understand where the school’s resources should go, which is where he thought the plan should focus. Salop suggested revisiting the plan in the future. 

An issue Stevens brought up was the public electric vehicle charging station, going “on the record” that she is nervous about having strangers on campus for an extended period of time, because of student safety concerns. Additionally, this station would take away already limited parking space from school employees. Salop was unsure whether the committee could do anything about this, since the school is town property, to which school committee member Skipper Manter said they would “have to go to the lease,” but also suggested the possibility of having the charger be off-limits during school hours. 

Chilmark select board vice chair Warren Doty said this topic will be discussed during the Tuesday evening, August 16, select board meeting. 

Another concern Stevens brought up was space for Chilmark preschool. While it is “great having them here,” the New England School Development Council’s projections show that Chilmark School will experience an increase from 70 students to 85 students. This creates a problem of space, which the school is already short on. Stevens also brought up this concern last year. Committee members and Doty were in favor of keeping the preschool and figuring out “creative ways” to preserve the program, although Manter did say, “not to sound cold,” that the priority would need to fall on the Chilmark School (Up-Island School District) students. 

Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools business administrator Mark Friedman suggested conducting a feasibility study to see population projections and available resources. Deb Zetterberg, a member of the preschool board, agreed, and said a feasibility study would be a “good first step.” Additionally, Zetterberg said the preschool is also expected to “see a bubble in the preschool numbers.”

Relating to the increase in students, Stevens wants to hire education support personnel in order to “have all the needs met.” In particular, special education classrooms are where the hire would see the most use. 

“I do not have that in my budget, so that’s why I’m bringing it up, because that’s probably the least expensive way that I can make all these kids work,” Stevens said. She said there were 54 students when the budget was approved, but now the student population is 70. Stevens told the committee there is a potential candidate in mind for the position. 

When asked by Salop if this could be properly discussed during the meeting, Friedman replied, “Candidly, no. We’d have to do some digging and look for some options for you.” The committee decided to hold another meeting on August 22 at 5 pm to discuss “remediation options” before the school year begins. 

Stevens told the committee that a contract allowing Chilmark School students to use Chilmark Free Public Library is “all set.” 

Lowell-Bettencourt said the summer school at West Tisbury was very successful in engaging with the participating students and gaining the approval of parents. West Tisbury School received a $90,000 grant for the summer school program in May, and the grant will be automatically awarded next year if the state has the funding. 

Lowell-Bettencourt said many of West Tisbury School’s staffing needs have been filled, but they are still in the process of hiring a music teacher. However, Lowell-Bettencourt said backup plans are being considered in case a music teacher is not hired in time. 

“We’ve actually had two separate whole interview rounds with two different candidate pools. We’ve offered the position two different times to two different people, one from each of those candidate pools,” Lowell-Bettencourt said. “Although the candidates thought about it, took some time, and wanted to come to the Vineyard, they were not able to accept the position. Basically, both of them were [concerned about] the cost of living, the cost of housing, et cetera, on the Vineyard.”

West Tisbury School is in the process of preparing its music room and social studies room, which were affected by flooding, for the upcoming school year. Lowell-Bettencourt said the school building overall is still “in great shape.”

The Up-Island School Committee unanimously approved field trips for West Tisbury School, including one to the U.K. in June 2023. 

Meanwhile, the committee unanimously approved awarding contracts for two school projects. One was a $65,000 contract with Keenan + Kenney Architects from Falmouth for the Chilmark School HVAC project’s architectural planning and bid-process guidance, which is expected to be finished within the next two months. The other was a $558,000 contract with MDM Engineering from Dudley for the West Tisbury School roof construction. The firm says the work can be finished before Thanksgiving.