Whatever feelings the Island’s children may have about returning to school next Tuesday, Sept. 6, their principals, teachers, coaches and other campus leaders are eager to welcome them back for a school year with a return of cherished traditions.

“There’s an energy and an excitement that always fills the school as we get nearer and nearer to the first day when kids come back,” said Edgartown School principal Shelley Einbinder, one of several Martha’s Vineyard educators who spoke with the Gazette this week.

While Covid remains a lurking concern, much of school life has returned to pre-pandemic normal. Masks are now optional throughout the school system and only children with symptoms will be required to test for the virus and isolate if positive.

Kevin Casey stocks bookshelves in West Tisbury. — Ray Ewing

Under a policy confirmed August 31 by the all-Island school committee, school nurses have discretion to update campus Covid protocols on the spot, in order to respond to changing infection rates in the community.

A similar Covid policy is in effect at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury, which operates outside the Islandwide school system and educates 180 children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We’ve been asked to shift and pivot at a moment’s notice, so we’re ready to do that,” director Peter Steedman said.

At the Chilmark School on Sept. 6, students in kindergarten through fifth grade will stream in through the wide front doors for the first time since they began entering their homerooms directly from outside in 2020.

After hanging up their backpacks and checking in with their teachers, the children will resume one of the school’s traditions that got sidetracked by Covid precautions, principal Susan Stevens said.

“At 8:30 we ring the bell, all the students come out front and all the teachers, and we make a big morning circle in the foyer,” Ms. Stevens said.

The students then take turns leading the flag pledge, announcing birthdays and sharing news and thoughts, Ms. Stevens said.

“It really leads them into public speaking,” she said.

Other principals also are looking forward to a more normal school year than they’ve seen since 2019.

At the West Tisbury School, principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt recently announced the return of the eighth-grade exchange program with a school in England, while Mr. Steedman said the public charter school is resuming its eighth-grade tour of Italy. Both annual events have been suspended since 2020.

At the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, principal Sara Dingledy said she’s excited about a pair of newly hired teachers who are moving, with their families, from Brazil to the Island.

“I truly think they are two of the most brilliant hires,” Ms. Dingledy said.

Carlos Trindade will teach Spanish for Portuguese speakers, as well as Brazilian Portuguese, Ms. Dingledy said.

Daniel Soares will teach Portuguese language arts, which is a required subject for newcomers from Brazil in their first two years at the high school, she said.

“As you deepen proficiency in your own language, you deepen proficiency in your second language,” Ms. Dingledy said.

With about 730 students, the high school has the Island’s largest enrollment, by far — more than 10 times that of the Chilmark School, which has 70 children.

“Last year we had 56, which we thought was really big,” Ms. Stevens, the Chilmark principal, said.

“When I started [in 2009], I think we had 30, and the town and the school committee tasked me with growing the school,” she recalled.

Through social media marketing, advertising and campus tours, Ms. Stevens said, she more than doubled the size of the student body.

Most of her pupils come from Chilmark, West Tisbury and Aquinnah families, but there are also three children from other communities whose parents teach at the Chilmark School and open-enrolled them there, Ms. Stevens said.

Oak Bluffs school principal Megan Farrell, who last year had about 425 students, and principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt of West Tisbury, where about 350 students were enrolled, were not available to speak with the Gazette about this year’s numbers, but most other principals indicated little change from 2021-2022.

Ms. Einbinder expects about 400 students when school starts — pretty much the same number as in June, she said.

“We always have a few requests for school choice, but Edgartown’s school choice policy doesn’t allow us to accept a student if we have more than 18 enrolled in a particular class,” Ms. Einbinder said.

School choice has led to a drop in enrollment at Tisbury School, which is in the early throes of a renovation and addition project and has already lost its gym.

While student numbers continue to change up to and even after September, principal John Custer said he expects about 280 kids this fall.

“We definitely had a higher number than normal of school choice requests. I understand that,” said Mr. Custer, who last year had about 290 students under his supervision.

“Many parents were upfront weeks and months in advance, just explaining that, and I understand and respect that completely,” he continued.

“We’re sad to see kids go, but as I’ve said for years … we’re very fortunate on this small Island that there are wonderful schools and wonderful options,” Mr. Custer said.

“There’s no such thing as a bad school on Martha’s Vineyard, and that’s something this Island should be proud of,” he added.

School pride was on full display at the annual system-wide staff kickoff, held in the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center at the high school on Sept. 1.

Hundreds of teachers, administrators and school workers turned out for the gathering, many dressed in T-shirts from their schools or from the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association teachers union.

The Tisbury School contingent took team spirit even further, marching into the auditorium in yellow hard hats and high-visibility vests to the song We’re All In This Together by the High School Musical cast — and receiving a standing ovation from the rest of the school system community.

There were also cheers for the high school jazz combo, which entertained with standards directed by band teacher Ray Fallon, and an ensemble of Minnesingers who sang a cappella led by performing arts department head Abigail Chandler.

But the loudest and longest standing ovation of all — more than three minutes of cheers, whistling and applause — came for school superintendent Richie Smith, who stepped into his position over the summer after 20 years as an administrator, first in Island schools and then in the central office as second-in-command to former superintendent Matthew D’Andrea.

“We are Martha’s Vineyard schools. We’re one, and we celebrate our successes and challenges together and we share them,” Mr. Smith told the crowd.

“This has got to be the hardest time to be an educator, ever, and I want to express my gratitude to all of you. You all have worked incredibly hard, showed tremendous resilience, put aside your own fears and anxieties … As a dad and as a colleague, I’m incredibly grateful,” he said.