First Day Thursday for Most Students; Enrollment Is Flat

By RACHEL KOVAC

Restless children will be sent to bed early Wednesday after a summer of beach days and evening ice cream cones. On Thursday they will don new clothes and grab backpacks filled with pencils and notebooks. It is that time of year again: back to school.

Much is new in the schools this September. Dr. James H. Weiss is gearing up for his inaugural year as superintendent. Also readying for their first years are 30 teachers, one principal and a few students arriving from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. A preschool at the Chilmark School will open its doors for the first time next week.

"I'm very excited," Mr. Weiss said. "I'm looking forward for the first day of school. You have everybody back and everybody is excited to be there."

But some things have not changed. Principals hired last year for the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools have agreed to stay. Enrollment is flat for the fifth year in a row. And the school system is once again in limbo over transportation - par for the course in a year that saw flux at every level of Vineyard school administration.

Former superintendent Kriner Cash abruptly resigned last September, leaving the school committee to appoint Edgartown school principal Edward Jerome as interim superintendent for 90 days. He was succeeded by G. Paul Dulac, who served in that position for six months. Mr. Dulac recently transitioned into the role of Edgartown principal.

Mr. Weiss, who arrived on the Island two months ago from his position as superintendent of the Sanborn regional school district in New Hampshire, has already faced several challenges, including making sure the busses are running tomorrow and providing opportunities for teachers to meet the requirements for state certification.

"I have worked in these kinds of situations," he said. "It really is an Island, and it makes it that much more difficult. People have been very warm and helpful. I'm doing the history of the Island and learning what has taken place over the last couple of years."

Though the beginning of his administration has had a few challenges, he said his goal is to provide every child with the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. He acknowledged that it can be difficult for students to expand their horizons on an Island, but said the schools are equipped to meet the challenge.

"We try to offer a wide, diverse range of programs," he said. "Anybody can find something to get connected to. Find something you're interested in and that's really important."

At the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School principal Margaret (Peg) Regan is excited about the students who will arrive Wednesday for a half-day of freshmen orientation. The class will include more than 200 students, about 40 of whom did not attend elementary school on the Island.

"The guidance counselors are registering kids like crazy," she said, noting that they might even see a few students from the New Orleans, La., area. "That may become an issue for us. By law we will take any child that comes who is deemed homeless. That's what we have to do. We don't need records. I actually hope families do come up here. I hope they have the opportunity."

Mrs. Regan also drew attention to the crop of new teachers - the largest she has seen since becoming principal. She said they are a talented group who have come from across the state and as far away as New York and Maryland.

The high school also has revamped scheduling. The school will run on an eight-day rotating block schedule, meaning classes will be held at different times each day of the rotation. The schedules are carefully laid out in the handbook, and will be announced each morning.

"The reason for this is to optimize the number of class meetings," Mrs. Regan said. "We found that certain periods kept getting hit with snow days, Monday holidays, field trips and athletic trips. We tried to jumble it up as much as possible. There are so many things high schools have to respond to."

Teachers at the high school also created a new writing manual to give tips on styles of writing ranging from essays to research papers to lab reports.

The manual was developed in response to feedback from alumni, who reported being unprepared to do the complicated writing assignments required at the college level.

"We wanted to address the whole decline of writing as an art, as a way of communicating," Mrs. Regan said. "It can't just be the English teachers."

High school administrators, teachers and students are also scheduling a diversity caucus, to be held early in the fall, to work on breaking down some of the barriers that exist among the student body. A similar discussion was held last spring after several racially motivated incidents took place.

Over at the Edgartown School, Mr. Dulac has taken over as interim principal after the retirement of longtime principal Mr. Jerome.

While Mr. Weiss will have to contend with the woes of a transportation system, he said he is looking forward to working with teachers and students. He will meet with faculty this morning for an opening discussion. David Rossi, chairman of the all Island school committee, also will speak, along with motivational speaker Norm Bossio, a former teacher, principal and superintendent.

"There is always a nervous feeling before the first day of school," Mr. Weiss said. "The buildings are in great shape. We have been hiring teachers all summer. I'm ready."