On his 103rd day on the job, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew H. Malone came to the Vineyard for a full immersion in Island education: he chatted up students and praised the school’s vocational program, made suggestions for school fundraisers and sampled the culinary program’s scalloped potatoes.
Mr. Malone was on the Island Thursday for a look at Vineyard schools and to listen to concerns, he said, as part of a tour of schools across the commonwealth.
The day started with a cabinet meeting in Edgartown and ended with a tour of the West Tisbury School. With an entourage including high school principal Stephen Nixon, vocational program director Jeff Rothwell and state Rep. Timothy Madden, Secretary Malone toured the high school from the greenhouse to the arts department.
Sworn in as secretary in January, Mr. Malone was formerly the superintendent of Brockton schools. He has a Vineyard connection; his brother, James Neville, is a West Tisbury police officer.
The bulk of the tour focused on the school’s large vocational program, which includes a horticulture program, the first Mr. Malone said he’s visited. As the group walked through the greenhouse and toured the hydroponics area, a plant sale was in full swing. Mr. Malone suggested adding lawn art — he had bought a stone bulldog the previous day, he said.
He also noted the value of vocational programs. “Folks that know how to do this, they’re always going to be employed,” he said.
“Especially on this Island,” Mr. Madden added.
The group wandered through the culinary cafeteria, where a senior luncheon was under way with residents from Windemere dining on lobster and asparagus. Mr. Malone took the time to address the group.
“Education for us is a multi-generational endeavor,” he said. “What makes America great is a free education. It’s because of folks like you that we’re here today to benefit from it.”
“Martha’s Vineyard is really doing some great work,” he continued. “The sense of community is wonderful.”
He ended by suggesting that the diners buy some plants over at the sale, and an observation. “If that’s one thing I learned, Martha’s Vineyard, is you guys know how to have lunch.”
Back in the kitchen, Secretary Malone chatted with students and ate a plate of scalloped potatoes while students torched the tops of creme brulee. The potatoes were good, he said, praising the onions and cream, but “I’d crush a lot of garlic in there and maybe mix a little Gruyere in there, too.”
On a serious note, he told officials: “You guys have some really robust chapter 74 programs [state-funded vocational education].”
There was a peek in at the driver education class, one of the few such classes in the state that is offered during the school day. “It’s important,” Mr. Malone said.
Mr. Madden said he’s filed a bill to get driver education back in the high school system, with the Vineyard class as the impetus.
Mr. Malone stopped to talk to students in the halls and in the middle of classes. “How’s school going, what are you into?” he asked. He talked sports and got music recommendations (the secretary might be checking out The Sound Providers sometime soon).
When ninth grader Caio Proti walked by in a lacrosse jersey, Mr. Malone pounced. “I heard you beat Nantucket,” he said. “Is school going well for you? Are you happy?”
Caio said he loved the atmosphere of the school and he’s learning a lot.
While several students were befuddled by the group roaming the halls, senior Job deForest sought out Mr. Malone. While there is a senior exit survey at the school, he said, he wanted to “get more of an opinion out of the seniors here,” and proposed a more comprehensive survey with real questions that will have more participation.
“This idea you have of a statewide exit survey makes sense,” Mr. Malone said. He gave Mr. deForest contact information.
“This secretary of education, I’m a big believer in dodge ball” he told a gym class. He implored them to eat greens, exercise and avoid cigarettes and alcohol.
He took his lawn art pitch to Brendan Coogan’s art classroom, and dropped in on Bill McCarthy’s creative writing class. He talked about Ireland with teacher Elaine Cawley Weintraub.
The day also included a geography lesson.
“I thought today was the day that I would accomplish a mission to [visit] very single county,” Mr. Malone said. But he learned that Nantucket is a separate county.
So he said he’ll make plans to visit that island soon.