Island Schools Set to Open New Academic Year

Enrollment Figures Show Slight Decline to 2,350 Students

By MANDY LOCKE

It's that time of year again.

Island schoolchildren are double checking their list of school supplies and enjoying the last weekday morning of sleeping past seven o'clock. Teachers are pinning the last of the laminated pictures to bulletin boards and reviewing their lesson plans.

While the Island's young battle back-to-school jitters today, school leaders can't wait to launch another academic year.

"We're excited and ready to go. We can't control all the variables out there, but we can control our outlooks," said superintendent of Island schools Dr. Kriner Cash.

An estimated 2,350 Vineyard youth will head back to school Thursday, Sept. 5. Whether they hike, bike or take the bus, high school students must report to school by the 7:45 a.m. bell Thursday. Opening day begins half an hour later for those in kindergarten through eighth grades.

Raw tallies tell Mr. Cash that this year's school population has shrunk by about 60 students, from 2,412 last year.

A few of the schools - West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury - shed about 20 students, largely because a bulkier class of eighth graders headed to the high school this year and a slimmer group of kindergartners replaces them.

"We're down a bit, but not so much that it affects services," Mr. Cash said.

Principal Maureen DeLoach, in her fifth year at the helm of the Tisbury School, will be overseeing a student body of slightly over 300 pupils, a drop she attributes to the population dynamics in Tisbury.

"The last two classes we've graduated are almost twice the size of the kindergartens. Tisbury is an aging community," she said.

Oak Bluffs also shed about 20 students this year - needed relief for a system stretched to capacity in the last few years.

"The capacity of that town is being reached. We knew it would drop. Now, we hope it doesn't drop precipitously," Mr. Cash said.

Edgartown's school population is swelling a bit this year, adding 10 students to help fill the first of the new wings in a $16 million school construction project.

The Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School continues to operate at its capacity of 160 - offering the new school a steady and consistent community.

"People are staying. Other than 13 new kindergartners, we only have six other new students. It's encouraging for the stability of our community," said charter school director Robert Moore.

The high school population remains steady this year, principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said. Mrs. Regan said high school staff will welcome another hefty class of 207 freshmen to the regional school Wednesday for orientation. The regional high school continues to accommodate children from the Island's population surge in the middle to late 1980s.

The Island school system will step into the new year with a full teaching and administrative staff as well.

"We were down to the wire, but we've filled all positions," Mr. Cash said.

While the Island's children are aging, the teachers seem to be getting a little younger.

A slim majority of Vineyard educators log less than five years with the Island school system. Only 45 per cent claim veteran status in the system - a percentage that's dropped from nearly 70 per cent just seven years ago.

"It's a good indicator of a stabilizing staff. There was a great deal of concern several years ago that our veteran staff would go in such numbers that we'd be unable to fill it. But the biggest bulk has yet to go," Mr. Cash said.

Regardless of how many or how few students, educators are ready to go with new initiatives and projects for the coming year.

Student leaders at the high school will embark on a consistent and honest dialogue with administrators and faculty this year. The push for a more involved student leadership in governance at the high school developed through a summer leadership program.

"It came out of discussions about the weaknesses at the high school. They want their own coffee with the principal, more student-led activities and greater access to teachers and administrators," Mrs. Regan said, noting her excitement to launch a Friday morning meeting with student leaders.

The high school faces reaccreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges this year. A team of educators from across New England will assess the high school's competence on everything from curriculum and instruction to community involvement.

"I think we'll get some great feedback," Mrs. Regan said, explaining that the school's staff spent much of last year on a self-accreditation process.

The charter school will introduce a few new programs in the classroom this year - from a new math program for younger students to a comprehensive health program for middle school students. Mr. Moore said they will also push some of the high school students off the charter school campus this year into the workplace to hone their life skills.

"We knew there were lessons to be learned in the workplace and connections to be forged between some of our students and job sites," he said.

The Edgartown School will begin the year running through a logistical obstacle course of sorts. Until the construction team completes the wing for kindergarten through fourth grades, Edgartown's youngest students will be shuffling to remote sites across town. Principal Ed Jerome expects the delay in completing the new wing to last about a week.

The Tisbury School - after a summer of minor renovations - will host a back-to-school bash for their students Wednesday night, the eve of the first day of school.

"It will give everyone a chance to say hello before the official start of school," Mrs. DeLoach said.

School staff across the Island will enjoy their own pep rally today - listening to the motivational words of veteran educator Betsy Primm of Atlanta.

"She'll speak to the simple question, ‘Why teach?' " Mr. Cash said, noting that the speech will be a perfect launch for the school year's theme of Truth and Authenticity in teaching and learning.