School committee names Matthew D’Andrea superintendent

Matthew D’Andrea is the current assistant superintendent of the Martha's Vineyard Schools and one of two finalists. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The Martha’s Vineyard All Island School Committee met Wednesday night and voted unanimously with one abstention to choose Assistant Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea to be the next superintendent of the Island school system. Mr. D’Andrea and Oak Bluffs Principal Richard Smith were the two finalists to replace James Weiss, who will retire on July 1.

There were four votes for Mr. Smith in the initial round. Once it became clear that Mr. D’Andrea had the majority of votes the committee voted to support Mr. D’Andrea.

“It’s not an easy job, I’ll tell you that,” Mr. Weiss said at the conclusion of the vote. “You are lucky people to have both of these men. This Island is blessed.”

Prior to Wednesday’s vote, Mr. Smith told The Times that Mr. D’Andrea was an excellent candidate and “either way, I am in a good place.”

The selection committee received information packets from 18 candidates, and conducted interviews with five. James M. Hardy, a consultant with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, which was retained to advise on the process, facilitated the search. On Jan. 6, the committee announced its two finalists were Mr. Smith and Mr. D’Andrea.

In separate 90-minute interview sessions last Wednesday and Thursday nights, committee members asked each candidate to describe how he would manage continually increasing budgets, and especially shared services; how he would respond to the need for building repairs and better facilities management; and how his experience would shape his vision for the Island school district.

Mr. D’Andrea

Mr. D’Andrea was first up last week. In opening remarks during an interview session that lasted just under 90 minutes, he described how his career in education had been defined by his own years in elementary school. “I had a bad experience in third grade,” he said.  “I got into education because of a teacher I had in fourth grade who turned that around for me. I bring that positive thought to work every day.”

Mr. D’Andrea said, “Our goal is to prepare students for life in a global economy, to help them become problem solvers and to think critically. The key to success is to develop relationships with students and all other members of the community.”

Mr. D’Andrea described himself as a “fiscal conservative,” and drew on his experience as a principal in Mattapoisett, where, he emphasized, there was never more than 2 percent to 4 percent annual budget growth. “Each year we had to do zero-based budgeting,” he said. “We took every line item and started from scratch. It was tight. That experience helped me learn how to do better with the resources I had.”

Both nights, Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury reinforced his reputation as a fiscal conservative. Mr. Manter, who is also a West Tisbury selectman, asked Mr. D’Andrea how he would address “continually spiraling increases in the shared-services budget.”

Mr. D’Andrea offered several specific suggestions that included a strong preschool program for all Island children. He said many elementary school students come to school unprepared. The problem is complicated by the fact that these students are misidentified as candidates for special education simply because they have fallen so far behind, he said. “We all need to be on the same page about entrance and exit criteria,” he said. “So many go into special education and never get out.”

Robert Lionette of Chilmark asked about major building repairs. “Do you have a custodial-services plan, and how soon would you implement it?” he said.

“I think we need to bring in an engineer to look at some of the issues, in particular at the high school,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “Once we collect that information [about cost], we can ask whether we need to go out for a bond or can we do that within the budget or capital plan. We absolutely need maintenance and custodial plans, and we need them yesterday. There are things that can’t be ignored, because this is how we ended up in this spot. It is also a safety issue for students and staff.”

Mr. Smith

On Thursday night, Mr. Smith used his opening remarks to describe his experience as a teacher and guidance counselor in Virginia. He said that given his work in both Tisbury and Oak Bluffs over 13 years, he had “developed relationships with over 800 students and their families here on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Asked about goals for the school district, Mr. Smith said, “My vision is based upon an unconditional, positive high regard for the children. We need to funnel all our planning through that lens. And when we support our teachers, children then achieve at high levels.”

Asked how he had handled a challenging assignment that required a creative response, Mr. Smith described how, in 2011, superintendent James Weiss asked him to move from Tisbury to become principal of the Oak Bluffs School. At that time, Oak Bluffs was on the verge of being named a failing school and was “very close” to having sanctions imposed by the state Department of Education, he said.  Mr. Smith said that his role as principal was to “help our teachers learn how to invest in change.”

Addressing concerns about the shared-services budget, Mr. Smith said, “We can’t just cut something because it’s growing. We need to make our programs more effective.”  He said that he often had success by reorganizing resources. Asked about district buildings, he suggested that administrative roles might be modified so that “one person is responsible for oversight of our facilities.”

Mr. Smith also pointed to resource allocation when he described how teachers at the Oak Bluffs School had come together to try to reduce the cost of substitute teachers.  By adjusting schedules and taking on additional class assignments when a member of the team was out, “the teachers saved over $90,000,” he said.

He added, “The talent is already in our buildings. There is a need, but there is a different way to achieve that need.”