Frustrations rising at Edgartown School

Some parents criticized the administration for failing to find a balance with resources going to teaching English.

52
The Edgartown School —MV Times.

Citing a lack of leadership in the aftermath of COVID-19, and amid challenges posed by a rising student body whose primary language is not English, a growing number of parents at Edgartown School are expressing frustration, with some electing to transfer their children to other schools.

Advocates say that these parents worry that students requiring additional needs — such as learning English — are draining resources, leaving some higher-achieving students feeling as if they are not being challenged. 

The issues came to a head during an Edgartown School committee meeting last week, following 22 letters sent to the school committee and administration outlining parents’ concerns.

School administrators have said that the school could do better, and say that they have implemented some programs that can effectively teach all students. Superintendent Richie Smith, on Thursday, acknowledged that demographics on-Island have shifted significantly, and that schools are sometimes challenged to keep up.

The school population in Edgartown dropped by 20 students since last year, to a current total of 379. But statistics regarding school choice — in which students leave for other public schools — may be more telling. Over the past several years, Edgartown students leave for other schools at a significantly higher rate than students from other towns transfer into Edgartown. 

According to statistics shared by the administration, in the 2014–15 school year, a net of 20 students were lost to other public school districts through school choice. In each of the two school years from 2017–19, 35 were sent, and seven received. This school year, 17 were sent, and two came into the district through school choice — the least balanced ratio of any year shown. 

Meanwhile, over the past several years, the population of non-English-speaking students has doubled, a reality which reflects the vibrancy of a growing Brazilian community and the challenges of an Island that is witnessing a shifting demographic in its year-round population.

The state Department of Education reports that nearly 40 percent of the district’s students have a first language other than English. Nearly 20 percent of the students, classified as English language learner (ELL) students, are at different stages of learning English. Ten years ago, in 2014, just 13 percent of the school population had a first language other than English, and just 10 percent were classified as English language learners.

On average, across Massachusetts, 26 percent of the student population has English as their second language, and just over 13 percent are EL learners.

The high population of English learners was a concern among the dozens of anonymous complaints filed with the school committee, which were obtained by The Times.

The complaints cited a lack of support or proactive communication from school leadership, with multiple letters criticizing Principal Shelley Einbender and Assistant Principal MaryAnn Bartlett.

Other common complaints were that teachers were stretched thin in classes of more than 20 students — many of whom required attention as English learners — and that the school failed to challenge the students who excelled.

Included were eight stories and 14 more complaints from Edgartown School parents, with roughly a third of the accounts stating that the parents had pulled their students.

None of the parents’ letters identified their children as English learners, or students who speak a language other than English at home.

Reached earlier this week, Edgartown PTA president Brooke Leahy told The Times that there’s been concern that the school has not gotten back on track since the fallout from COVID. And she and other parents have talked with the school’s administration, but changes have not been made. 

Leahy says that overextending resources for English speakers is not the only concern for parents. She said that there are a wide variety of issues that result in parents taking their students out.

“A lot of attention gets paid to all of those diverse groups,” Leahy said. “There are only so many teachers in the building, and so many hours. We need to service all of the kids, and there is a big population of ELL kids and a large special-needs population. And that is beautiful for our diverse community, but there has to be a give somewhere.”

“Meeting the needs of all students means all students. And that includes high-achieving students as well,” Leahy added.

“We’ve hit critical mass, and can’t just talk it away anymore. We need to make a switch,” Leahy said. “A lot of this has been talked about extensively in years past. It is becoming more obvious. People are looking for solutions.”

The frustrations were voiced at a school committee meeting on Thursday last week, where dozens of parents packed the Edgartown library and more than 100 attended on Zoom.

Several parents echoed Leahy’s comments, speaking to the importance of addressing every student’s needs during class time — including the students learning English — but balancing that with challenging students who are excelling.

“What is happening right now in the school is just a snowball effect of — post-COVID — but anxiety and lack of communication,” former school committee member Kelly McCracken said during the public comment segment of the school committee meeting. “And if you do not have happy teachers and happy kids, you will not have happy parents.”

It wasn’t just parents at Thursday’s meeting. A teacher at Thursday’s meeting saw it differently. Edgartown School kindergarten teacher Debbie Grant highlighted the value of diversity in classrooms. “It’s not an ‘us versus them,’” she said.

“I had heard a little bit of, ‘Oh, ELL kids take away from the education of my child,’” Grant said. “I feel so strongly about that as an educator. What I see in a classroom is a diverse class, where kids are learning from each other in different ways.”

Administrators also highlighted that there are teaching methods implemented that have proven successful for educating a diverse student body. Superintendent Smith, acknowledging parents’ concerns, said one such method is co-teaching, in which classes receive two teachers in order to support all students.

Smith also highlighted what he called the Think:Kids program, in which teachers learn collaborative problem-solving models to assist students with behavioral issues.

Still, the news that the district was losing students came as a surprise to some committee members and the school’s principal.

“It was a shock to me to learn over the course of my two and a half years here that we have an imbalance of students leaving, as opposed to coming into the district, with the Island-wide school choice,” committee chair Lou Paciello said at the meeting.

“I’m not placing any blame,” Paciello continued. “But I also am not happy with that. So even if it was a historic problem, I still see it as a problem, and that we need to address and come up with solutions to that problem … We want to be the school everybody comes to, right?”

Principal Einbinder, who has been in the position for five years, said that she reviewed numbers from the past 10 years after Paciello suggested doing so. “We’d never done that before, as far as I know,” Einbender said. “And it was eye-opening for me.”

At their next meeting, committee members plan to discuss a vote to implement exit interviews for parents who choose to leave the school. Superintendent Smith also endorsed offering site-specific surveys or exit interviews for school choice users.

Tim Klein, a parent of a former Edgartown School student, suggested instituting a survey system to gather parents’ feedback. 

“It can be anonymous, in whatever format you like, and you can take it or leave it. But you guys are delivering a product, right? And if we’re not in touch with the consumers of the product, that’s problematic,” Klein said.

Smith said the district sent all parents anonymous Education Department School Climate Surveys (EDSCLS) last spring, but that response rates were low.

The superintendent added that the district could better focus on data illustrating student feelings of safety and acceptance. 

“I have a very strong value in creating that culture,” Smith told parents. “And the first step is putting the instruments out there, and having people familiarize yourself.”

Smith also appeared at the Edgartown School on Feb. 5, and 7 to hear more input from concerned parents.

52 COMMENTS

  1. Everyone is begging for more housing for workers. No one foresees the future problems that can bring. A nicely built summer home is much better for the Island. These owners pay full local taxes and hardly use any services or our schools. Promote seasonal housing, not affordable housing. We can ferry in the workers.

    • There is no affordable housing, anywhere. On top of that add boat fare and parking.

      Your political position is that other, housing challenged, communities should house the Island’s workers, driving up their housing costs.

      You are incredibly selfish. A poor excuse of self sufficiency/American Exceptionalism.

  2. The country is still recovering from the disastrous implantation from the Biden administration on Covid. This Island was excessively over-the-top paranoid, and our children are still suffering because of it. Edgartown has some of the highest per pupil cost in the state and it is shameful that we cannot get our moneys worth. But I know their answers going to be we need more money it always is. When we look at our Town warrants in April, you can bet they want more money.

    • The country is still recovering from the disastrous implantation from the the Trump and Biden administrations on Covid.

  3. There is no affordable housing, anywhere. On top of that add boat fare and parking.

    Your political position is that other, housing challenged, communities should house the Island’s workers, driving up their housing costs.

    You are incredibly selfish. A poor excuse of self sufficiency/American Exceptionalism.

    • Albert, you’re right. Rent is rising quickly. It’s nearly $2k per month across the US for a 2-bedroom apartment. My personal opinion is that allowing people to temp-rent their homes, we are using housing as a hotel. We should enforce residential zoning and leave hotel operations to commercial districts. (And, let’s not forget that inflation is a spiral, which impacts housing costs. About 66% of the products imported from China are under tariff. Trump started the trade war with China in 2018. China retaliated by imposing their own tariffs. This became one of the largest defacto tax increases in US history. My friend the soybean farmer nearly lost her farm due to Trump’s actions. Now Brazil grows most of the soybeans that we used to grow in the US. When stores up their prices because “everyone else is” we all lose, including workers who want to work on the Island.)
      Back to the school issue: We have amazing schools. Parents who home school may not be aware of the real-life results of depriving them of a public education (that our ancestors fought so hard to attain!); some home-taught children are years behind.
      We may have challenges but our schools are not broken!

  4. So we could just have the non English speaking students
    stay outside until they learn.
    They could set up a tent and the kids could watch
    the class on Zoom.
    Or we could have an outreach program for the
    parents to convince them these “foreigners”
    are not drug smugglers, rapist, and murderers.
    This certainly doesn’t do anything to dispel the
    stereotype of privileged white people in
    Edgartown.
    The article even states “Other common complaints
    were that teachers were stretched thin in classes
    of more than 20 students ” So what’s the problem ?
    Let ’em leave.

  5. A nice idea (sort-of), BUT…You’d need FULL SSA ferry service to New Bedford, and a vigorous recruiting program to get even half the qualified workers needed to actually make the trip each day and not be able to hang their hat here even after a long, grueling day of summer work. And recall that restoring New Bedford SSA ferry service was hotly debated in the 90’s with vigorous opposition from the NIMBY contingent, especially up-island. Not really viable as things stand.

  6. One of the most effective ways to deal with having a large population who speaks a language other than English at home is to turn the situation into an opportunity for all. Rather than thinking of the Portuguese speaking children as putting high demands on the teacher’s attention, it is smart to invest in a two-way program where all the children need to learn a second language. English speakers would learn Portuguese, and Portuguese speakers would learn English. In this change of perspective, the English speaking children will have plenty of opportunity to practice Portuguese. Developing multilingual skills creates new neural pathways in children’s brains with positive effects on their general intelligence. The Cambridge, Boston, and Framingham public schools have experience with dual language programs. These are #1 choice programs for many parents who value second language learning and cultural understanding. All of the children do better in this type of programs where the bilingual and bicultural population is considered an asset rather than a burden.

    • progressive thinking and open mindedness…turn a perceived issue into an opportunity. That is what creative people, and successful organizations/communities do…

  7. MV doesn’t have any significant curriculum and instruction leadership. A behavior program and co-teaching model are not all it takes to address a lack of differentiated instruction. Island-wide curriculum improvement used to be the assistant superintendent’s job. That ended when Smith became assistant superintendent. I’m not sure what he did in that position, but clearly, the island needs a curriculum leader who understands differentiation better than the superintendent.

  8. Nobody in the school system seems to be willing to speak the truth out loud. Let’s see if an outside voice can help, because Edgartown reflects a nationwide crisis in miniature. But because it is in miniature, it could be a good place to get honest and get practical – if public-school leaders at the local and state level will entertain a new paradigm.

    So what I am hearing here is that “high achieving” means American students whose first language is English, and who therefore come to school with that basic aspect of “readiness to learn.” That’s a bizarre way to excuse the blatantly misguided elevation in the American public school system of “diversity” for its own sake.

    What about championing basic education standards that require students – no matter where they come from, what race or ethnicity they are, etc. – to be “ready to learn” as a prerequisite for entering an American public school? If the champions of non-English speaking populations want to fund preparatory programs for that constituency of children, let them do so. Then, once those children have acquired the needed language skills to become students in an American school, have them pass basic reading and writing tests to enter whichever grade is appropriate. That is fairness: to everybody, including (OMG!) English-speaking kids.

    It doesn’t make parents “jerks”
    or “bigots” – or whatever convenient, defensive nonsense the proponents of diversity-at-all-costs seek to assign to anyone who expresses concerns about what’s going on – to want their “already-English-speaking” children to get the education our collective dollars are supposedly funding.

    Our culture of over-accommodation to the lowest uncommon denominator – in which the system elevates unprepared students to a “special” status that undermines their prepared peers – is a recipe for cultural resentment and nativist revolt. It is actually a weird form of bullying, by the school system, of families who have every right to expect basic standards in public education for their kids.

    What some now call “high achievers” used to just be “regular American kids” when I was growing up. The public education system seems to have allowed itself to be diminished thanks to an unwillingness to apply the moral courage needed to stand up for standards.

    What is devolving into an unwitting anti-education movement places untold pressure, on teachers and the kids who come ready to learn, to “accommodate” classmates who are simply not starting from the same level playing field. Is the Massachusetts State education leadership designating the massive influx of non-English speaking students as “special needs” – the way the school system in Washington, D.C. classifies underprivileged children from minority groups whose family and community trauma constitute a learning “disability” as “special-needs” students? Children whose language and/or socio-economic situation render them unready to learn means they need PREPARATORY programs before they can realistically benefit from a public-school education. It’s a dereliction of public duty to place such kids prematurely in classrooms where they may be contributing to stymying their peers’ educational achievement. It is unfair to those children to put them in such an antagonistic position. And parents who see this disastrous situation for what it is are not crazy.

    When I voice my concerns to teachers I know, they tell me that public schools “must take everybody,” without any means of ensuring English speakers’ rights are protected (an absurd thing for parents to even have to worry about). The public school system is crucifying itself over a quixotic illusion of perfect justice, forcing classroom teachers to act as remedial education specialists and social workers, instead of affording them the ability to do the jobs they trained for: educating the next generation of American citizens on a foundation of basic standards.

    Here’s the solution: Prioritize “justice” for the children who enter public school ready to learn. Honor their “un-special needs,” while simultaneously implementing preparatory programs for the underprepared “special” learners. Separate and unequal, some cry? It’s time to get real about that: people are already living separate and unequal realities. If the idea is to achieve educational opportunity “for all,” you don’t accomplish that by downgrading opportunity for the majority of children in order to try and “bring along” an underprepared population. That’s frankly immoral.

    Parents who have complained about this insanity are operating from a place of rational preservation of their children’s learning experience. But of course, they can’t identify themselves publicly without risking irrational backlash from the “beautiful diversity” unicorns. I used to work with a charter-school support organization serving inner-city kids. Who was the most desperate for charter school options and private-school vouchers? The Black parents whose kids were stuck in failing public schools. Maybe the diversity unicorns should talk to folks like that, before judging parents with similar fears who happen to live in the Vineyard’s majority-white rural community.

    What good is it to insist we “accept everybody” if a) there’s no basic standard of readiness to learn so that b) “everybody” can progress in their learning and graduate on schedule, with the ability to read and write – if not outright excel – in the universal language of the professional world: English?

    • A.F –I wonder if you think any of the Portuguese speaking
      students might be “high achievers”?
      Have you ever considered that many or their
      parents own their houses and pay taxes into the
      school system ?
      Public schools are mandated to treat everyone
      as fairly as possible, and educate them to the best of
      their ability.
      It’s pretty clear that you don’t like “diversity” — too bad–
      America is and always has been a diverse country.
      The white folks are free to pull their kids out of the
      school —no problem with me.
      But I do want to thank you for not using the word
      “woke” I’m sure that took a lot of restraint on your part.

      • Don,
        I didn’t take any of A F comments as to being anti diversity. I read them as we have an assimilation problem that is only going to get worse with non English speaking migrants entering our schools. We can’t segregate those people as we all know (Brown V Board of Ed) and it’s not possible to teach our curriculum in so many different languages. All A F was saying is if you want be a high achieving student you need to be prepared for the curriculum being taught and speaking English will go along way in achieving your goals. And by the way this goes for everyone attending public schools. The more you prepare the better off you will be. My kids went to summer school that prepared them for the following years math and writing expectations. And before someone says well that’s your privilege being able to afford it, please don’t because it was a group of kids who got together and asked a local college for volunteers to tutor kids four days a week. It didn’t cost me a thing. Those extra hours learning over the summer paid off immensely. But like A J said they just came to school prepared.
        And Don, I commend you for not mentioning Trump as I’m sure that took a lot of restraint on your part too.

        • Carl– there are some dog whistles that give
          people cover when they don’t want to expose
          how they really feel.
          Like these:
          “defensive nonsense the proponents of
          diversity-at-all-costs…”
          “That’s a bizarre way to excuse the blatantly
          misguided elevation in the American public
          school system of “diversity”.
          ” irrational backlash from the “beautiful diversity” unicorns.”
          What do you think they mean by “beautiful diversity
          unicorns? ”
          I’m sure it was harder for them to not use woke
          than me not using trump. We’re talking about education
          after all.

          • Appreciate the wit re Trump. Touché. But I never understood the whole “dog whistle” thing looking for hidden meaning is the written or spoken words. Sometimes it is what it is. And in this case I just think A J is saying diversity should not be the focus of education, rather I interpret his post to mean everyone is entitled to an education in our public schools so long as they are prepared to be educated in said schools. We are failing our kids with social promotion where kids are being pushed along without satisfactorily achieving the standards of their grades. Our kids our scoring the lowest in decades in reading and writing.
            https://www.edweek.org/leadership/two-decades-of-progress-nearly-gone-national-math-reading-scores-hit-historic-lows/2022/10
            Only 37% of high school graduates read at their grade level and the average American can only read at grade level between 7 and 8 grade. Again, I just see A J point as let’s get back to the basics of first assimilation and then focus on reading writing arithmetic and the sciences. Diversity can only get you so far. And how about throwing the trades in there too for those that don’t want to go to college. Now that’s diversity. Thanks for reading my comment and for your reply Don.

        • Why are we talking about Trump? Two juries just found him liable for defamation about S. Assault to the tune of $5 million and $83 million. Juries of his peers.
          If that’s not enough in an AP article out of Beijing January 29, the Chinese see a match up between Trump and Biden as two “bowls of poison.” Trump preferred became he is seen as “a disruptive force that undermines American Democracy and U.S. global leadership to the benefit of Beijing.”
          Biden because “He is a defender of American values. He is engaged in ‘friends-circle diplomacy’ to form a circle of friends that integrates the power of the West to (counter) China.”

      • “But I do want to thank you for not using the word
        “woke” I’m sure that took a lot of restraint on your part”

        You used the word, Don.
        Now, own it.

    • The US, and the Island, do not have an official language.

      Public schools exist to educate all of children who are residents, not just English speaking citizens.

      What is to be done with students “not ready to learn”, instruct them in how to pick cotton?
      How many native born are not ready to learn? Island born?

      Switzerland has three official languages, how do those kids learn anything?

      One more time, our public schools exist to educate all students to the very best of the their ability. Not just the cream of the crop. If that is not good enough for your kids send them to Falmouth Academy. They teach in four languages.

      I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that you are a native born English speaker, White, Christian, college educated professional, with intact, college educated parents. Lucky you?
      Well educated people are multilingual, there are so many concepts that are difficult to express in English, it’s pretty much a garbage language, so many “borrowed” words and meanings, it sounds like crap.

    • A.F. Cook—I’m reminded of some religious training when I was a child: Rather than wondering if other people are cheating me, wonder if I am cheating other people.
      Why are we all worried about if “my child is being cheated out of an Ivy League education” rather than making sure that ALL of the children are receiving that same excellent education?

  9. Take a look at whatever is going on at the West Tisbury School- I almost fell out of my seat the other week when my 7th grader said “I love my school”- middle schoolers can be the hardest people on the planet to eke a compliment out of. Kudos to Donna and Mary for creating a great environment for her to learn.

    • Donna and Mary were teachers for a long time. They both really really know curriculum and instruction. I’m sure they guide the staff in differentiating effectively.

      • They may, which is wonderful. However, my child’s happiness isn’t related to policy details- it’s all about the kind and supportive environment she walks into every day. I think I speak for many parents when we say that as long as the basic benchmarks are being hit, we just want our kids to be happy when we send them off in the morning and happy when we pick them up at the afternoon. As a parent, this is what really matters.

  10. There honestly has to be a solid ground playing field here. ( no pun intended).
    Let’s work together.
    Teddy Rosevelt
    John Adams.
    Coach – you know who you are!
    Let’s find a solution!
    I love the idea! – all the kids learn together a bilingual language.
    Yet. Not thinking it’s the best for my grandchildren.- learning how to read your abcs is hard enough!
    They have already gone through Too! much due to the pandemic!
    Please.people of MV you all seem awake. Yet.. America 🇺🇸 Is sending billions over the waters.
    This would be a great challenge for the charter schools.
    Remedial English reading. After school hours
    Class room school day♥️W their new island friends.- food classes- fun/ learning to be ONE!
    ABCs on the playground.
    No hassle. They are children, after all.
    They Just need to not be involved in this mess.
    (Disclaimer.- didn’t ask coach if I could use his name- yet. He is The best of the best.

    Do we just –
    Build that wall.
    Or what?

  11. It’s taken me 52 years to understand that there is a wide difference between complaint-oriented behavior and solution-oriented behavior. Opting to skip the first, I’ll plant my flag on the 2nd. I am bilingual in English and Portuguese and have an teaching license from the state of Massachusetts. I will be happy to volunteer once a week to work with any students at the Edgartown School who need extra support.

  12. Equity means each child should be afforded the same outcome. It seems Edgartown School is providing just that. When half the class doesn’t understand the teacher speaking English and the other half doesn’t understand when the teacher is speaking Portuguese they have achieved equity – each child is experiencing a lousy education equitably.

    • John, equity is an English word.
      It means equal opportunity, not equal outcome.
      Equal opportunity with out regard to race, intelligence, wealth, or number of languages spoken.

      English is the official language of England.
      Switzerland has three official languages, none are English.
      Are the Swiss poorly educated?

      America, and by extension the Island, have no official language.
      Prior to 1776 , in what is now America, there were hundreds of spoken languages.
      The “illegal” White immigrants changed all that.
      Immigration always does.
      Do think that immigration has made America better?
      Does it still?

      • You’re just incorrect. Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. There’s no such thing as an equal outcome in our school systems. Some kids are just smarter than others.

        • Albert and John, thank you both for trying to explain what the new definition equity is. To me if you owned a home worth 500k and you owed the bank 100k then you had 400k in equity. But the progressives have hijacked this word along with so many others and changed the definition to fit their narrative and gaslight the populous. The masses will never be equal there will always be those who are rich and powerful, smart and cunning, funny and good looking. I just happen to fall into,the latter category. To think otherwise is foolish.

        • Some kids are smarter than others. Some kids will do better than others.
          All kids deserve equality, equal opportunity, not equal outcome

  13. Mr. Julian Wise.
    I’ve known you and have seen your heart since my child who is now 37- yikes.
    Was in WT.
    Great idea!!- I know you’ll help!
    Let’s all help!
    Not enable!- no way!
    But! Pick each other up.- true?

  14. Calling Nancy Cole.
    ☎️
    She had the best after school program!
    In every MV school I believe.
    I worked WT and VH with her.30 yrs ago.
    ( many of us did)
    Cooking.
    Homework!
    Sewing.
    After school mini courses.

    Anything is possible. W heart.

  15. Parents can bring their children to a Lindamood-Bell Learning center off-Island. It’s an English only program. It’s about a 5 week program that focuses on reading. Other programs focus on math. Good for all grades. It cost money but, the results are worth it. MV students lost out during the prolonged covid shutdowns and ongoing mask mandates. Reading scores will not improve after committee meetings. If a group of parents contact Lindamood-Bell, they might set up a learning center on Island. They did it before covid, they can do it again.

Comments are closed.