Following the recent elimination of an established general education diploma (GED) preparatory program on the Island, the Dukes County sheriff's department announced that it will sponsor GED classes for Vineyard residents.

The new program will be overseen by Katy Upson, director of the educational programs offered at the Edgartown jail. The classes will be held at the community corrections center, currently under construction near the Martha's Vineyard Airport. The classes will begin once the building is completed, sometime in October.

"Katy and I had a conversation about it, and we recognized the need in the community for the program and said we would hate to see a lapse. And she agreed to put in the extra hours required to accommodate the needs of the community," Dukes County sheriff Michael McCormack said yesterday.

"Any time the county sees a need of the citizens that is not being met by the towns, or in this case the state, we want to step in. It's part of the regional approach to providing community services," county manager E. Winn Davis said.

The program will run at no additional cost to the county, and the only cost to students will be the price of the GED exam. The training classes will be offered for free.

The Dukes County Commission endorsed the decision at their regular meeting on Wednesday.

Mr. Davis brought the problem to the sheriff's attention last week, after learning that the Martha's Vineyard Adult Learning Partnership had eliminated its GED classes, which usually start in September at the regional high school.

The decision left Vineyard residents who want to study for the high school equivalency exam with no place to enroll in preparatory classes. The only other GED offering on Island is the one at the jail.

Since a state grant was awarded back in 1997, close to 200 people have earned their general education diploma through the adult learning partnership. But program director Jeanne Burke said low enrollment numbers coupled with strict state guidelines forced them to scrap the classes.

The state Department of Education recommended eliminating the GED classes after conducting a site visit during which officials reviewed attendance logs and observed low attendance levels. Ms. Burke said the state educational agency that funds their operation requires a minimum of seven students enroll in the classes for at least 32 weeks.

Mr. McCormack and Mr. Davis said enrollment will not be an issue with the county program.

"We plan to provide this opportunity for as long as it's needed, until such time as the state gets involved - whether it's one or two people who need it, that's what we'll do," Mr. Davis said.

"We will give students as many teaching hours as it takes to complete the GED test itself and earn the certificate," Mr. McCormack said.

The sheriff said the program will be similar to the one offered at the county jail, which starts with a needs evaluation and then places students accordingly in either the adult basic education program or the GED preparation program.

The sheriff said the program will have other benefits.

"If we have an inmate who is going through the GED program and then is released before getting the certificate, this will allow the person the opportunity to continue the program," Mr. McCormack said.

"The GED program is a very valuable tool for people to have available," Mr. Davis concluded.