As director of Early Childhood Programs at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Debbie Milne has been an advocate for the youngest Island residents for 35 years. Each of the organization’s cornerstone programs for children — the Family Center, the Childcare Center and Head Start — was developed and nurtured during her tenure, which began under the mentorship of ECP founder, Helen Maley.

Last week, Ms. Milne announced her retirement, a decision that was made in careful collaboration with colleagues and with the support of executive director, Juliette Fay.

Ms. Milne will pass the baton to current director of the Chilmark Preschool, Heather Quinn. Ms. Fay spoke to the Gazette by phone and confirmed that the transition will take place in July.

“We’re just so thrilled to have somebody of Heather’s caliber and passion joining our team,” Ms. Fay said. “Debbie was absolutely phenomenal for many years, so there are big shoes to fill. But I have no qualms about Heather taking over and continuing the strong and proud tradition of care.”

Heather Quinn has been the director of the Chilmark Preschool for eight years. — Mark Lovewell

The transition at MVCS comes at a time of restructuring within the department. In addition to Ms. Milne, Family Center director Marney Toole and Head Start director Mary Brissette will also be retiring this year.

“We took part of last year to think it through,” Ms. Milne said. “We knew we had to leave at some point, so we thought, what’s the best way to do this? After a lot of discussion we thought it made sense to go out and bring in a new team, all at the same time.”

Ms. Fay noted the significant impact the three women have had at an organization which they each played a role in creating, over 30 years ago. “Between them, it’s almost a century’s worth of commitment,” she said. “But the people we have coming up behind them, with Heather at the helm, it’s all going to be really good.”

The two other positions will be filled from within the organization, which Ms. Fay believes will help the transitions to occur seamlessly over the course of the next year. And that Ms. Quinn is already established on the Island helps, too. “The fact that she’s an Islander makes it all the more wonderful,” Ms. Fay said. “It’s great to be able to bring someone in that’s a known commodity.”

Ms. Quinn, who, like Ms. Milne, is a graduate of the teaching program at Wheelock College, has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for over 20 years. For the last eight years she has served as director of the Chilmark Preschool, a position she is reluctant to leave behind.

“It was an incredibly difficult decision because I have been very happy at CPS. This program will always have a special place in my heart,” Ms. Quinn said. “I feel proud of where the program is now and very confident that we’re going to be able to find someone to follow in my footsteps, just as I did with Chris Abrams [Ms. Quinn’s predecessor and the founding director of the school].”

Ms. Quinn will likely stay on as a board member of Chilmark Preschool as well as maintain her role on the School Advisory Council of the Chilmark School, of which her son, Jack, is an alumnus.

Both Ms. Milne and Ms. Fay said that they couldn’t have dreamed of a better candidate for the position. “She has all of the skills that we were looking for in a person: experience directing a preschool and experience with home visiting; budgeting and supervising staff,” Ms. Milne said.

Alluding to a number of new ECP initiatives, including more collaboration with the public schools and programs to support the Brazilian community, Ms. Milne noted that the organization would benefit from a fresh perspective. “Heather has that youthful energy to start new things,” she said.

“These opportunities were certainly part of the draw for me,” Ms. Quinn said. “Thinking about how community services might be able to grow and expand their programing to meet the needs of the Island.”

Ms. Quinn is also eager to broaden her reach into the Island community. “At Chilmark Preschool we have about 18 families enrolled,” she said. “What excites me about community services is that through my work I’ll have the opportunity to reach so many more.”