School Bells Ring for 2,400 Island Children

New Academic Year With High Energy to Reach Goals

By MANDY LOCKE

The school children waiting at the ends of driveways Thursday morning confirmed what the empty shelves of school supplies at area stores suggested earlier this week.

Nearly 2,400 Island children - filled with stories from summer adventures - headed back to school yesterday.

And there to welcome each and every one were eager teachers and administrators.

"I've been looking forward to the first day of school for weeks now," Robert Moore, director of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, said Wednesday.

"The best thing about the first day is all those smiling faces coming back. You get to hear all their stories and see how much they've grown," said Ed Jerome, principal of the Edgartown School.

"It's the enthusiasm and level of excitement in the minds and eyes of the students and teachers that makes it great," Mr. Moore added.

Mr. Moore and the staff of the charter school will be welcoming a full house this year, just one shy of its 150-student capacity.

Margaret Regan, principal of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, will be filling her school to the brim as well.

"We'll have the largest high school ever, 200 in practically every class," Mrs. Regan said, proud of the size but even prouder of the caliber.

Although she admits she has yet to get to know the new freshmen, Mrs. Regan said she's heard rave reviews about the bunch from eighth-grade teachers across the Island.

Mrs. Regan also feels confident in the high-achieving senior class - who've attained the highest MCAS tests and junior advanced placement tests since she's been at the high school.

"Of course, when you have that leadership, it just trickles down," she said.

Freshmen won't be the only new faces in the halls of the high school this year. Mrs. Regan said the school has hired many new teachers , and that for the first time in years, veteran teachers don't constitute the majority.

Kindergarteners and freshmen weren't the only ones navigating a new school this week. New West Tisbury principal Elaine Pace donned a party hat along with her teaching staff to "celebrate a new beginning."

"We don't know how it will unfold. Some of the older kids will probably laugh at us," Ms. Pace predicted on Wednesday.

Edgartown School planned a party for opening day as well - complete with hamburgers and hot dogs.

Well before 8 a.m., police officers and crossing guards took their posts outside the Edgartown School to help direct parents through the new traffic configuration brought about by the current construction project.

While principal Ed Jerome said he won't be wearing a hard hat, he said he'd be right in the middle of the new staging area to assess the success of the loading and unloading patterns.

Superintendent Kriner Cash also didn't want to miss the opening party at the Edgartown School - nor did he want to miss the opportunity to see how the new staging pattern worked.

While the rest of the Island slowed down this week, Mr. Cash and his fellow educators geared up for the beginning of a new school year.

Even though Mr. Cash's office has yet to do an official head count of new students, he knew the overall student population hangs right at 2,400.

"It's a real mixed bag. The high school's increasing a bit because we've still got those larger classes coming out of the elementary schools," Mr. Cash said. The Vineyard experienced a significant swelling in its student body in the 1990s, but Mr. Cash feels that trend is fading.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we will not see those really high growth rates again," he said. "Lots of folks can't afford to be here," he offered as an explanation for the slowdown.

In general, the kindergarten classes are a bit smaller this year. Tisbury School enrollment also evened out, he said, holding a student body between 350 and 370.

"It can't really grow much beyond that," Mr. Cash said.

Mr. Cash said that his office will be looking at ways to alleviate that growth in the middle grades and determining whether to address the issue regionally.

But with the beginning of a new school year, Mr. Cash's mind focused on goals instead of numbers.

"Our goals are high but realistic for the year," he said.

"Overall, Martha's Vineyard public schools are in as fine a shape as any school system in the nation," Mr. Cash concluded.