Our diversity is our strength, especially in schools


Last week we reported on a Feb. 1 Edgartown School committee meeting where more than 200 parents, attending in person and online, fumed about the school’s administration (“Frustrations rising at Edgartown School,” Feb. 8), citing a lack of communication, and raising concerns about the school’s handling of a growing English language learning program. 

The day after The MV Times story, school administrators announced that all of the Island’s schools would conduct an equity audit and climate survey, which will seek feedback from parents, students, and teachers on school culture and leadership. 

Superintendent Richie Smith made it clear that the audit and survey had been in the works for some time, but it is hard not to think that the administration was reacting to the public outcry by some parents. If that’s the case, well, it is good to know these parents were heard.

We applaud this effort by the superintendent to assess the problems surfacing at the Edgartown School, as it is critical that the school system find the right formula to serve a growing, vibrant Brazilian community, which will prosper with a robust English language learning program.

To succeed, the Edgartown School — and all Island schools — need to balance the needs of all of the students, including high-achieving students. Real or not, some parents in the Edgartown district say the pace of classrooms has slowed down where ELL students are learning alongside students with English as a first language. The challenge of a great school system is to lift all of its students up to achieve the best of their ability, and to take pride in the growing diversity in the schools, which is a great strength of this Island. That takes good leadership at the Edgartown School, which parents seem to suggest is lacking.

While parents of English-speaking students were vocal at the recent school committee meeting, we encourage more parents from the Brazilian community with children who are learning English in the school to become involved in the schools, so their voices will also be heard. 

This week, our reporter Daniel Greenman highlights the distressing fact that not a single person from a Brazilian immigrant family serves on a local school board. We hope that will change, and that the Brazilian community will find leaders who can help the schools be sure they are serving their children, and to work with all of the parents and the administration toward a shared goal: making sure all our schools are places of excellence. That could take time and action from sitting school committee members and school administrators, but the cause is worthy of the effort. There are also shorter-term goals that could help improve the input of parents, such as making school meetings more inviting and convenient for working parents, particularly for those who do not speak English fluently: maybe a Zoom link with a translation, or more convenient hours for those who work long days. It’s not just committees, but parent-teacher organizations as well.

At the Edgartown School committee meeting on Feb. 1, it was clear that some parents do not feel their school is making a sufficient effort to achieve the goal of excellence, and some went so far as to say they have lost faith in the school’s administration. 

As a sign of their dissatisfaction, there are data suggesting that students are leaving the district — not in droves, but in a steady stream. Enrollment dropped by about 5 percent last year. Also, students have been transferring to other public schools at a rate higher than students are transferring into Edgartown.

Parents fear that their children are not being challenged to the degree that they deserve to be challenged, that teachers are overwhelmed, and that some issues are going ignored.

One parent told us that when a student finished their work in class, they were told to read in the corner, to essentially wait while the teachers addressed the other needs in the classroom. It’s just anecdotal and told secondhand by a parent, but it reveals how parents are feeling.

What can’t be ignored in this discussion: There has been a substantial and relatively sudden increase in English learners, not just at the Edgartown School, but other districts on the Island as well. Our reporting has found that the population has doubled over the past decade in multiple down-Island schools. 

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reports that nearly 40 percent of Edgartown students have a first language other than English. Nearly 20 percent of the students — classified as English language learner (ELL) students — are 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.

In the Tisbury School, about 55 percent of the district population has a first language other than English, with about 30 percent learning English in school. That’s more than double the population from a decade ago. In Oak Bluffs, the trend is the same: The population has more than doubled over the past ten years. These districts jumped from being less than the state average to well over the average in a matter of years.

In his comments to The Times, Superintendent Smith said that they could and will do more to improve the schools. To accomplish that goal, he added, they will need to collect the data and make sure they are addressing the right needs. This is why the equity audit and survey will be crucial. It is expected to get underway in April, and we will be working hard to obtain the results and share them in The MV Times. 

While the administration acknowledges some shortcomings, it is asking the right question: What can be done to make sure that all students on the Island are getting the education they need and deserve?

And it’s not just schools that have a new challenge. We, as a local news organization, can and need to do better to listen and share the perspectives of these families on the Island. That will require proactive steps to incorporate the voices of the Brazilian community into our work, which we will be working hard to do. 

The worst thing that could come from the concerns from parents in Edgartown is to blame and cut from the district’s English language program. Far from it. To embrace the vibrant Island community, providing that vital programming is a must. Equity in education will only be a boon to Island life.


  1. If English language students are not getting the education they deserve, that’s a problem. And it really is. It’s not “whether it’s real or not.” The lack of participation by the parents of Brazilian children who are students in the schools we all pay taxes for, who need that extra boost of language learning, really need to get involved, especially when the town’s resources are being used for their children. It’s too easy to accept the status quo, call anyone who speaks up someone who doesn’t believe in the goals of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” (or worse, the dreaded “r” word, today tossed around with abandon by anyone who needs a weapon). We need real solutions and the parents of Brazilian students need to step up as do the administrators. All children deserve a fair education. Our tax dollars are supporting all of the students. This could be an opportunity for greater participation in the larger Martha’s Vineyard community of the Brazilian population, who make up a large part of us and are not really very involved in anything, from the town selectboards and committees, to the MVC, to our arts and culture. Where are the leaders? Don’t they want more than to just live, work, and send kids to the schools? Where is the giving back?

    • If non-English language students are not getting the education they deserve, that’s a problem. And it really is. It’s not “whether it’s real or not.” The lack of participation by the parents of all children who are students in the schools we all pay taxes for, who need that extra boost of language learning, really need.

      “We really need extra boost of language learning, really need.” English, “Brazilian” Portuguese, Spanish and French, at a minimum.

      America and the Island have no official language.

      Lack of participation by_________!

  2. Wow,”giving back”, you should try to sound less, threatening and more inviting remember, all the folks here are paying high gas prices, high food prices, and very high rent, and those dollars float around they say every dollar spent turns into six dollars your statement is rather odd to consider that folks living here are not giving back sounds like you really want to say please be part of our school committees please be part of our town committees that would be more appropriate because these folks have been working very hard like this place very much and are paying extraordinarily high prices for everything they are contributing largely to the transfer of money here huge I think you meant to say thank you for believing this island is such a great place to be you would pay these crazy prices for rent, food, gas, etc. wow, not sure where you’re coming from. It sounded insulting and threatening.

    • You sound like an apologist for a population who hasn’t participated over the decades in town government nor in the Island cultural experiences, whether the galleries, plays, festivals, parades, and everything else. You don’t say it’s racist, but I think someone like you would be ready to pull the trigger on that word for pointing out what are facts. As the children say, you sound triggered.

      No, asking people to “give back” is a normal fundraising appeal and it’s the same in the community. It’s not as if these town and island services come out of thin air. If we knew a voting percentage of the Brazilian population, that could also help us tell exactly where they stand on issue, but come to think of it, I don’t see any the annual town meetings, either. No one invites me to those personally! Why should a community need handholding when they have established themselves here for at least two generations now? Please. Stop making excuses for others and criticizing me and work on bringing in new people who can, to use the very trendy word these days, reflect “representation.” I suppose DEI programs are for that, to hand out jobs and admissions to those who won’t apply themselves on their own.

      My final take is that this is America: I’m an immigrant just as anyone else is besides the Indigenous. No one needed to tell me to participate in my community. I looked around and did it because it was the right thing to do. Stop apologizing.

    • Patricia, all the people who live here, and pay high prices, do so by choice.

      “Of all the earth’s surfaces it is islands that are the jewels.”

      Jewels cost more.

  3. You can lead them to water but you can’t make them drink. To islanders who are not a part of the Brazilian community: you are viewing this issue through an American cultural lens. You wrongly assume the lack of participation is due to a poor communication about the opportunity to serve or contribute. To anyone who is part of the Brazilian community knows that Brazilian culture does not value or emphasize community service or volunteering. Not anecdotal – facts. If you find yourself questioning this point, when was the last time you were invited to a Brazilians residence for a meal? Once, twice? You don’t know the cultural or community. That’s not to say there aren’t Brazilians who are altruist but they are the exception not the rule. The overarching view is “why would I do something for free.” The reason they are here is to earn dollars. Period. To progressive democrats, this the motivation that tourist visas are violated (they work for six months then go home – they aren’t authorized to work) and why false asylum claims are made. Brazilians don’t advertise this info but if they trust you they will discuss it. Think of it this way, no islander admits to speeding on route 28 but when you want something (I.e., to catch the ferry) you all do it – the MV license plates give you away. Lastly, the school administration knew about the Brazilian student enrollment boom years ago (pre pandemic). In a (Brazilian) teachers words, her statements were dismissed and the warnings went unheeded. She and the district ended up parting ways. It’s clear the school did not (does not?) value the Brazilians that were already involved. What’s that word that describes consequences for actions or inaction?…eh it will come to me. Finally, to bring this last point home, perhaps the school district should consider the anecdotal and testimonial information as empirical evidence rather than dismissing it as they did the former teacher.

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