Island school enrollment expected to grow

Elementary schools have significant populations of English language learners.

Superintendent of Martha's Vineyard Schools recently went over enrollment numbers. - MV Times

Enrollment across all Island schools increased over the past two years by more than 100 students, and projections lean toward further growth.

Enrollment in all Island schools increased from 2,151 students in the 2020–21 school year to 2,268 students in the 2022–23 school year. That’s expected to increase by another 100 or so students in the next four years. 

Meanwhile, the number of English language learning (ELL) students enrolled in Island schools is also on the rise. These are students defined as newcomers to the Island who speak a language other than English at home, and may come to schools needing assistance learning how to speak, read, and write in English. 

At the Tisbury School, nearly 60 percent of students speak a language at home other than English.

The information was presented by Superintendent Richard Smith during an All-Island School Committee meeting on Wednesday, March 15.

With more students also comes a need for more classroom space, and potentially more building construction, with costs and implications that the committee is anticipating. 

Looking back 10 years, even with the population influx due to COVID-19, the school population increased by about 200 students. In the 2012–13 school year, the K-12 enrollment was 2,058 students. “You’ll notice that our low was 2,058. That was 2012–13, and our high is presently this year 2,268,” Smith said. 

In the 2026–27 school year, the K-12 student population is projected to hit 2,376 students, with approximately 180 of those consisting of kindergarteners, 1,084 in elementary school, 335 in middle school, and 768 in high school. These numbers would be distributed across all Island schools. Projections were provided by the New England School Development Council, also known as NESDEC. 

Smith reminded school committee members that the projections should be considered estimates. Also, COVID-19 and other possible future implications were not factored into the projections presented. 

The projections are called “mortality projections,” and are determined by looking at the number of births on the Island and then projecting kindergarten enrollment five years later. Projections do not factor in families with children moving to or from the island.

On the current numbers of English language learner (ELL) students enrolled in schools across the Island, significant increases in newcomer students needing these services were emphasized. “Strategically, programmatically, we need to address the need,” Smith said

While not all school numbers were available, based on 2022 information, of the 757 students enrolled at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, 220 of them — or 29 percent of the total school enrollment population — spoke a language other than English at home, and 110 of those students — 15 percent of the total enrollment — are not fluent in English, requiring English language learning services at school. 

At the Oak Bluffs School, out of the 438 total students enrolled, 145 students — or 33 percent — speak a language other than English at home, and 110 of them — 25 percent of total enrollment — are English language learners. 

At the Edgartown School, out of the 404 total students enrolled, 165 students — 41 percent — speak a language other than English at home, and 92 of those students — 23 percent of total enrollment — are English language learners. 

And at the Tisbury School, out of the 272 total students enrolled, 155 students — 57 percent — speak a language other than English at home, and 92 of those students — 34 percent of total enrollment — are English language learners. 

“It’s an interesting trend that is part of our strategic plan,” Smith said of the population of English language learners at Tisbury School. “We do have to address this, because I think we’re only going to see more growth.” 

Tisbury School is currently being renovated. “Folks can assume that once that building is new and restored, I think you’re going to see that population grow significantly,” the superintendent said. 

There are no ELL students in the Chilmark School. Children in Chilmark requiring ELL assistance must go to one of the other schools, like the West Tisbury School, if they need that service.

Of all the school numbers reported, the regional high school has a significantly lower population of students in both categories, as compared with kindergarten and elementary school numbers, implying a trend of influx of families with young children who don’t speak English at home. 

“Historically, we’ve had younger kids who are our newcomers who have no English language at all,” Smith said. “We see those in our earliest grades. But lately the trend has been that newcomers are coming into the secondary grades in the high school as well. So we made additional ELL teaching staff at the high school as a result of this newcomer influx, newcomers having no English language or very little … But you also can see diminishing numbers [at the high school level] because people do test out or no longer need ELL services.”

Teachers of the English language learner programs don’t need to speak the language to teach the material. “It’s certainly helpful,” Smith said, “so we’re trying to look for people who have that skill when we hire.” 

When asked if there were peer resources in place for ELL students, Smith responded, “Students have resource help, but do the newcomers have peer support? Not designed, but I’m sure socially they do.” Although there is no peer support program in place outside of the classroom to help ELL students with their language progress, committee members believe that there could be social support from peers, and that technology plays a role in language learning as well. 

The numbers presented were drawn from the Access for ELLs test, an English language assessment administered annually according to Massachusetts state law, along with the MCAS tests. The numbers reported are “just a snapshot in time,” according to Smith, and the numbers are not static, and do not necessarily accurately show the coming and going of ELL students throughout the year. Some students may be enrolled for only part of the year and transfer out, only for new, different ELL students to replace them, coming in midway with no English language at all. 

In addition to the projected increases in enrollment and the statistics provided on the ELL enrollment, numbers were also presented by Jen Royal of the Project Headway Program, a special education program that assesses and helps to support children of all ages with learning disabilities and special needs. 

Royal said that years ago, they started with just one integrated Project Headway classroom, which combines special needs students of varying levels with peer students, students who do not have special needs and can help be “mini teachers,” as Royal put it. Today there are five classrooms across the different grade levels in all island schools. Royal also anticipated the need for more classroom space in the future specifically for the program, as enrollment increases across the board.


  1. It seems that every time we have a discussion about spending money on schools, there are a few people who claim the student population is declining.
    I hope this puts that myth to rest.

  2. MV seems to have a real issue with soaring population growth. Seems plenty of families with children are able to move here and find housing notwithstanding the alleged “housing crisis”. We simply don’t need another tax on Vineyard homeowners to make it easier for even more people to live here. Say “no” to the housing bank bill. Keep Our Island Green

  3. Maybe the school department should focus more on ensuring our buildings are ready for all students rather than wasting time and money on a ridiculous lawsuit against the town which hosts both an elementary and the high school

    • Susan. Have you paid attention? The high school has been working for years to enter the MSBA program to renovate the building to host students and save the town of Oak Bluffs money. Tisbury is building for the future and Up Island is evaluating space needs. Just because you don’t like one project you rant at every turn. Where is the uproar over the massive amount of plastic on Edgartown road where Donorama’s is covering earth for a retail location? Please be consistent!

  4. This would be an excellent opportunity to resharpen the pencil and review the budget. The school committee relies on asking for money hence, raises your taxes. As a taxpayer, with the rising cost of everything, we have to constantly sharpen the pencil and review the budget. It only fair they should too. Question: What would happen if all the second houses were occupied with families? Does the school take that into account when determining the budget? There is about 10,000 houses so, one child per household; 10,000 children added to the existing education system and the same budget which accommodates around 1,000 children. The point : Why is the budget rising with increase enrollment? School budget is about 50% of the town’s budget. Again, same amount of money for 1,000 children or 10,000!

    • Generally speaking when volume increases so do the costs.
      In most cases what schools cost a town is around 50% of the fully burdened cost of providing education.
      The rest comes from State and Federal government.
      In some of our cities the State pays for 80%+ of the school budget.

  5. School enrollment is climbing. So what? Are we saying a teacher can teach 20 kids but cant teach thirty? Or are we saying the physical size of the class is too small. It does not necessarily follow that schools should be spending more just because there are more kids. A little more maybe.

    • when it comes to teaching, class size matters.
      When I was in second grade in Catholic school, there was one nun and 85 kids– look at what happened to me….

    • Most private schools have between 7 and 12 students per class.
      Are those parents wasting their money?
      80%+ of school budgets go to direct labor costs. The buildings are a minor expense.
      In selecting schools for your children was student/teacher ratio a factor?
      What was the average?
      With your depth of knowledge of the optimum teacher/student ratio when will you run School Committee?
      Or will just keep screeching from the cheap seats, no investment of time and money?

      • When I was in college the late Kurt Vonnegut spoke on campus. He said that when you go over 18 kids in a classroom the quality of education begins to drop. This is an anecdotal observation and not empirical, but it seems to make sense.

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