Nearly 200 parents attended an Edgartown school committee meeting last week, criticizing the district for a lack of transparency and a pattern of ignoring parental concerns. 

The Feb. 1 meeting, which saw nearly 100 in-person attendees and 124 attendees on Zoom, took place after 24 current and former Edgartown school parents submitted letters, many of them anonymous, taking issue with the school administration. Some parents reported recently pulling their children out of the school and the letters, obtained by the Gazette, paint a picture of absent, ineffective leadership and a systemic “breakdown” of the school’s ability to serve both its increasing English language learning population and its higher-achieving students.

“My child’s entire curriculum was being duplicated into Google Translate on his teacher’s phone and then played on speaker,” one letter said. “It means everything takes twice as long to move through.”

Principal Shelley Einbinder said student enrollment dropped by about 20 students this year. — Jeanna Shepard

School committee members Louis Paciello, Kelly Scott and Kimberly Kirk presided over the meeting, but the school administration received the bulk of complaints. Over the course of two hours, principal Shelley Einbinder and superintendent Richie Smith fielded questions about the school’s declining enrollment, staffing challenges and demographic makeup.

Responding to a perception that parents were leaving the school at an unusual rate, Ms. Einbinder shared that enrollment at the school had dropped from 399 to 379 this school year, a decline of 5 per cent. For the past 10 years, however, more students have opted to leave Edgartown through school choice than have opted in, with the vast majority of leaving students going to the public charter school – between 20 and 45 each year.

Although Ms. Einbinder pointed out that the trend is nothing new and has even lessened in recent years, Mr. Paciello found the data “alarming.” 

“Even though it is a historic problem, it is still a problem we need to address,” he said. “We want to be the school people come to.” 

Most parents’ complaints centered on the reasons for leaving the school and questioned why the administration had not conducted exit interviews to understand their grievances. Multiple parents urged that exit interviews, if adopted, should come with anonymity.  

As Mr. Smith and Ms. Einbinder shared more enrollment data, parents asked how many newly enrolled students were English language learners (ELL) and how that percentage compared to schools statewide.

Nearly 40 per cent of Edgartown school students speak a language other than English at home, and 19 per cent are classified as English language learners, meaning they are not yet fluent in English. While those percentages are higher than the state average, they are lower than those at the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury schools. At Tisbury, more than 28 per cent of students are English language learners, and more than 50 per cent speak a first language other than English.

Still, Mr. Smith said Edgartown school may have the largest overall number of ELL students.

“When you have a high number of ELL students, you will have them enter primarily down-Island towns,” he said.

The Feb. 1 meeting had more than 200 in attendance. — Ray Ewing

The emotionally-charged meeting hit a flash point when parents pressed how the school, with all of its resources, could better accommodate its students in light of the rising English-second-language population. The Edgartown school, both a school and its own school district, is one of the more well-funded districts in the state, with an operating budget of $8.5 million and a per-pupil expenditure of $26,829.

“As much as we’re talking about serving the whole community, that also means serving the teachers and making sure they’re able to serve not only our high needs community and our ELL community but also our kids who are excelling who are not getting their needs met – because of the resources required by more high needs kids,” parent Brooke Leahy said.

Kindergarten teacher Deborah Grant pushed back on what she called an “us versus them” mentality.

“I’ve heard a little bit about, ‘Oh the ESL kids take away from the education of my child,’” she said. “I feel so strongly about that as an educator. What I see in my class is a diverse class where kids are learning in different ways. As a teacher, if I can’t teach kids who maybe speak a different language and a kid who is maybe top in the class, and I can’t differentiate that, I wouldn’t be a teacher.”

Mr. Smith told parents he would be available at the school this week to talk about their specific concerns. The school committee said its next agenda will continue several action items, including a potential exit interview policy and surveys. All future school committee meetings will also include a Zoom option, Mr. Paciello said. There were no Portuguese accommodations in the meeting Thursday.

Both Mr. Smith and Ms. Einbinder said they will continue to hear parents’ concerns.

Several parents emphasized that the increased diversity of the school is not the problem, but rather its leadership approach.

“I love the diversity of this school…I appreciate that,” one parent, Sarah Murphy said. “What I want to see is all the needs of our kids being met and people feeling safe and proud of this school.”