Nearly twenty years ago a group of parents began formulating a plan to create a new school on Martha’s Vineyard. The idea was to provide another public school option on the Island, one that was still free and taught the same state-mandated framework as other schools, but that was more project-based and gave students the freedom to pursue their own education plan, whether it be mathematics or becoming a better skateboarder.
In 1995 the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School was granted its official charter by then-Gov. William Weld. On September seventeenth, 1996, the school opened its doors to seventy-two students and six teachers.
The school started small, building a middle school at first and then adding new grades each year. Today the school has approximately forty-five teachers, one hundred and eighty students and a waiting list of over one hundred and thirty-five students.
When the charter school was first proposed there were concerns about increasing costs for the school system as a whole or that it might siphon off the most motivated students and the most involved parents.
Those were reasonable concerns and, besides, change does not come easily to the Island, especially where education and children are involved.
But diversity of any kind is usually a bonus for a community. Although the complexity and mystery of a new initiative can at times feel threatening, in the end choice raises the bar for all.
In July of 1998 Robert Moore was hired as the first full-time director of the school, replacing interim, parttime director Ursula Ferro. Mr. Moore had a long history of experience in school administration and he helped usher the school into a new era with greater organizational depth. But he was also a full believer in the school’s fundamental mission. Ask any kindergartner who the principal is and they will say it’s their friend, Bob.
Here, on the last day of May in 2013, two days before the charter school celebrates its largest graduating senior class ever — twelve students — it feels as if the school has been a part of the community forever.
And yet on that first day in 1996 this was by no means a certainty. Building and running a school based on a model of freedom, where students have as much say as a teacher or administrator, is no easy feat. As Sydney Morris, one of the original founders of the school, said in a 1995 interview with the Gazette, “It takes a lot of structure to create freedom.”
But it pays off. As one of this year’s graduating seniors, Erin Sullivan, said:
“We have so much freedom. We give them the respect they give us.”
Hats off to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School.