Responsibility for Tisbury School dilapidation elusive

‘Mistakes were made,’ superintendent says, but declines to elaborate.


Updated at 5:30 pm

Lead paint remediation recently took place inside the Tisbury School. Town and school officials have expressed little interest in exploring how paint and other elements inside the building degraded over the years, and who is to blame. When asked by the Martha’s Vineyard Times about how such conditions could have gone unnoticed, and why some portions of the school still appear decrepit and potentially hazardous, Vineyard Schools Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said, “Mistakes were made,” but when asked, he declined to elaborate on what those mistakes were, and instead emphasized the school and the town have developed a new maintenance plan for the building, and are jointly looking to the future, not into the past. 

The Times toured the school on Tuesday night during a School Building Committee tour, and found damaged and peeling paint remains evident throughout the interior. This is despite $262,345 worth of lead paint and asbestos remediation, and despite a recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that peeling paint found in the school should be considered lead-based, that it should be tested, and that it should be remediated. And also despite a notification that Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said she gave to school officials — that the school “can’t have peeling and chipping paint.” 

D’Andrea didn’t participate in the tour, which was led by Tisbury School Principal John Custer. While not meant to spotlight paint in poor condition, the tour, which included about 15 people, nevertheless wound in and out of preselected spaces where peeling or flaking paint was observable on pipes, molding, doorframes, and radiators. In the cafeteria, through a missing suspended ceiling panel, peeling paint showed on the original ceiling higher up — an echo of the kind of paint problems previously remediated on walls and ceilings above suspended ceilings in classrooms. Observations made Tuesday follow a private tour The Times took through the school with Custer on Jan. 23. At that time, areas of damaged paint were also observed, including on pipes, a stairway, on walls, in an open closet, and on a door frame, among other places. 

Selectman Jim Rogers, who is a member of the building committee, and who came directly from a selectmen’s meeting, arrived at the school just as the tour ended Tuesday night. When asked Wednesday if he had an opinion about decayed paint still being in the school, he said he planned to call Custer and take a look himself. 

“They spent a great deal of time going through the school in December,” he said of contractors and inspectors. He suggested some of the damaged paint may have previously tested negative for lead.

D’Andrea responded to an email sent to him, Custer, Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande, and Tisbury School Committee chair Amy Houghton about failing paint inside the school, and pointed to Daedalus Projects, the school’s owners project manager, its subcontractors, and “local officials” who weren’t specified. 

“The scope of work was determined by the owners project manager, the contractor, and [Universal Environmental Consultants],” he wrote. “Upon completion of the work, UEC certified that the scope of work was properly completed, and the building was cleared by local officials for occupancy. Moving forward, we will address areas in the building with peeling and chipping paint as they are identified.”

Daedalus Projects president Richard Marks could not be reached for comment. Project manager Joe Sullivan didn’t immediately return a voice message seeking comment. 

Selectman Jeff Kristal couldn’t be reached for comment. Selectmen chair Melinda Loberg didn’t immediately return a voice message seeking comment. Valley emailed The Times to indicate she was on vacation, and could respond to questions when she returns. 

In a Feb. 6 joint interview with D’Andrea, Houghton refused to answer questions about how upkeep might have failed at the school, and who might be responsible. She said she didn’t find it productive to look back, but instead wanted to focus on the future, and not get into “finger pointing.” D’Andrea said he wasn’t interested in looking into the past either, but later reached out and said, “We do [want] to go back, and we want to look at what’s been done in the past and what can be done better.” He said, “Mistakes were made,” and that he was responsible for some of them. When asked to elaborate on what those were, he said he’d “rather not.” However, he did say he and Custer were monitoring the maintenance at the school going forward. He also said cooperation and dialogue with Tisbury officials has improved. “We’re building a stronger, better relationship with the town,” he said. 

In August, at a joint meeting of the selectmen, the school committee, and school officials where discussion of imminent lead and asbestos testing took place, along with what the ramifications of those tests might be, Rogers chalked up the state of the school to a bad golf shot. 

“The concerns are legitimate, but it’s like getting a bad shot in golf,” he said. “If you think about that bad shot, you’re destined to hit another bad shot; all we can do now is go forward.” 

An architect and an owners project manager have concluded little of the school is salvageable save for its brick shell, and even that may prove an expensive feat to shore up in adherence to modern building codes. Thus far, Tisbury voters want that shell preserved, as they deem it essential to the historic character of the school. 

Last summer, following the death of a new school project at the ballot box, a reconstituted Tisbury School Building Committee began considering options for a combination renovation and addition project that incorporated the school’s original architectural elements. As that project continues to be explored, the school remains open and occupied by kindergarteners through eighth graders. Many of those students only recently returned, following emergency measures to mitigate lead paint and asbestos. Work designed to resuscitate the building’s dysfunctional ventilation system took place alongside those mitigation efforts. School officials expressed surprise in the wake of back-to-back 2019 reports from the Martha’s Vineyard Education Association (MVEA) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) that found the school leaked profusely, harbored peeling paint in classrooms and elsewhere, and was starved for fresh air, among other deficiencies indicative of a breakdown in maintenance. After being spurred to test for lead paint and asbestos by DPH, school officials maintained their surprise at results that necessitated temporarily relocating many of the students and sequestering the rest in the newest and least contaminated wing of the building. 

As The Times reported in August, D’Andrea told an audience of fuming Tisbury School parents that lead pollution from paint and other hazards identified inside the school were recent revelations.

“To suggest that I knew, John Custer knew, [assistant superintendent] Richie Smith knew, is misinformation, and it’s insulting. We learned this last week,” he said at the time. 

“I don’t know who it was a revelation to,” Loberg said in an earlier interview with The Times. “They’ve been saying old buildings like that…there’s always lead paint. And it’s not the problem of there being lead paint, it’s the problem of there being flaking lead paint. And so I think that was the revelation.”

Updated with new information from the superintendent of Vineyard Schools. 





  1. So the superintendent of schools on Martha’s Vineyard says no one should point fingers, and then goes on to say that he and his assistant, including the school principal, would be insulted if people ‘believed they knew’ is just over the top BS!!!! Those individuals are the people who are in charge of the safety and well being of the students and teachers! Feigning ignorance of the situation which took decades of lack of attention is ludicrous! Fingers do need to be pointed, directly at those responsible for the situation. This includes every member of the board of selectmen, the town administrator, the superintendent (who works across the street), the building inspector, the health inspector, and the principal who works in the building. You are all failures! The tax payers and parents are owed an apology in the very least!
    Show some professionalism and accept responsibility for you total failure and lack of candor.

  2. Rich Saltzberg is painting (no pun intended) a portrait of incompetence, obfuscation, and muddled double-speak from the town and school leadership. This is an unmitigated PR disaster for these leaders and if they want to avoid a complete collapse in confidence, they’d better get their talking points in order. It may be too late.

  3. A Selectman comparing the dilapidated school to a bad golf shot? Well that’s par for the course. Get your head out of the sand… this is our children’s health we are talking about.

  4. I will admit I have not been following this story very closely. There seems to be little to no comment about the ridiculous vote of not building a new school. There will be no end to the repairs necessary to keep the school functioning. Eventually a new school will need to be built and I am sure the repair dollars could be put to better use.

  5. I hope that we can move forward and look to repairs that are needed for the school, we can look forward to building better relationships between the Town of Tisbury and the Tisbury School, we can look forward to focusing on the students, their health and well-being, we can focus on giving teachers a nice, warm, and safe place to work, and we can start looking for a way to suspend the Superintendent of Schools, Matthew D’Andrea’s current contract, and find a more-fitting leader for our schools, with a vision consistent with honesty and transparency. We must look forward: To think of the past, and pain of a divided school community……”I’d Rather not” comment on that!

  6. This simply boggles the mind. We’re talking about kids. Kids exposed to hazardous materials. Parents should band together, hire a good attorney, and sue town leadership. The state should also step in, condemn the school, remediate what the town continues to ignore, and then hand the town a whopping bill. And please, stop asking the other towns to bail you out. None of us want your problems. We’ve done our part for our schools. Now you figure it out.

  7. It’s abundantly clear that D’Andrea needs to resign. He should have made the Tisbury School his first and utmost priority when he was hired in 2015. These pictures are deplorable. We need a Superintendent who has a fire in his/her belly and is passionate about the physical, social, emotional and academic needs of our children.
    As far as who should take responsibility for this utter failure of the school children and their teachers it is clear that the school board, principal and superintendent are all equally culpable.
    Young children are particularly susceptible to lead paint poisoning as they frequently have their fingers in their mouths and therefore absorb up to 50% of the lead into their system. Their developing brains and nervous systems are also sensitive to the effects of lead. Is it any mystery why a highly reputable and revered local pediatrician pulled her two children out of the Tisbury School?
    According to the article, “Tisbury voters want that [brick] shell preserved, as they deem it is essential to the historic character of the school.” I’m not certain how the author arrived at this conclusion. The new school vote lost by 22 votes-hardly a landslide! Can someone please explain to me why they are proposing to preserve the brick shell when said bricks and mortar have not been tested for asbestos? Is there any one single voice of reason on the building committee? Like maybe someone who wouldn’t be so callous as to compare children ingesting toxic materials to their golf game?

  8. “Mistakes were made”. There’s a red flag for ya! Our pal the passive voice. Think of the “active” tone of the McDonald’s slogan, “I’m Lovin’ it!”, and change it to “It is being loved by me!”. Many a school english teacher would take you to task for usage like that. In public relations, the passive voice is often used to evade personal responsibility or to indicate that something some doesn’t matter. So, move along folks, there is nothing to be seen by you here.

  9. Mr. Saltzberg, can we please stop with the Tisbury School bashing? We get it, enough is enough, the school is in terrible condition. Now that everyone realizes that this building is not worth salvaging, we will move on to build a new school, then you can go pick on another town. Four generations of my family have attended Tisbury School since it opened, with my grandchildren currently enrolled. Many people in this town, the majority of the voters at the ballot box, wanted to see the school saved, not torn down. For some it was for sentimental reasons, for others it was the cost of the new school. The answer to this is now apparent. I believe Tisbury will end up with a state of the art new school to go along with the best teaching staff on the island. Go to another town and find another building to shred. Enough is enough.

    • Class of 74, I’m curious as to why you would qualify Mr. Saltzberg’s reporting of facts and exposing the truth as “bashing”?
      Do you think any parent would be made aware of the current conditions in the building if it were not for this article? These conditions exist AFTER they sunk a quarter of a million dollars of our taxes into “remediation.”
      And NOW you concur with what ALL of the educators were telling us two years ago that a new building was the most practical solution? Now that the state grant is gone? Are you aware of how lengthy the process is to apply for another MSBA grant? It is my understanding that the principal was pressured by the select people to not submit another application for a grant last year. Why is this the select people’s purview? If the Superintendent had a spine he would be making these decisions.

    • Sadly, Tisbury will repeat the “Cheap Is Dear” error by spending twice- one fortune to shore up a decaying building with band-aid patches and another fortune to inevitably build a new one. Tisbury has earned the egg on its face with this fiasco.

  10. I would really like to know who is responsible for the maintenence of our schools, are they qualified? is it different for each school? i was in the High School for a basketball game the other day and just that portion of the building is an embarrassment. How can these administrators continue to walk by dust and dirt and amatuerish painting?

  11. All the habitual commenters here feign disgust and disdain for all public officials and the conditions of the school. This is the same story for 5 years. This is the reason a school building committee was formed years ago to address the poor school and the need for a new one. The committee decided going to the MSBA would be an one solution to assist the town in financing a new school. That failed and now we have years of the same old stories just repackaged and talked about weekly all while the town is addressing the current issues and after creating another reformed building committee. I don’t know if anyone should resign, I don’t know if anyone should lose their jobs but I see leadership at all turns. I see people organizing from teachers, parents, officials and students and then the same “fan the flame” commenters talking about suing, recall petitions and fake outrage comments. I am bored with the same old island stories. Next week will be the school again, Nichols again , west chop lighthouse again or fire chief resigns stories. Why would anyone want to read the subscription only paper any longer? I already skip over comments from two inches, new news and Tom H.

  12. Hey bored,know why there’s been so many articles about the stories you’ve listed?
    Because that’s what happening on the island at this point in time.
    I do agree with you in that I glaze over comments from those you listed. I’ll be adding Bored to my list though.

  13. The only job the Superintendent should have for the next 2 months is to relentlessly seek State and Federal and Philanthropic funding for a new school. Nothing else should take his attention. Deputize others to do normal day to day oversight. D’Andrea is not responsible for the condition of the school but he is responsible for a solution. He needs to uncover any and all possibilities for financial assistance nationwide and concentrate lazerlike to make that happen. If he does he will unburden Tisbury taxpayers and be a hero on MV. More importantly he will show others how it can be done. Go directly to Cabinet Secretaries in Education and Housing. Go to Baker as Governor, Go to Trump with a request. Go to Grant makers. Go back to the people who offered 23 million a few months ago. Go to Bezos, go to Gates, go to Buffet, go to Hollywood. You folks think I am crazy but you dont know the art of the possible.

  14. I can see that nobody wants to point fingers at Custer, a student and long resident of MV. However, D’Andrea is in a real pickle, exposed in his lack of leadership, and by now, and a long history of passing the buck. Look how he shields the misguided leadership at MVRHS. Do we really want him to preside over MVRHS athletic fields expansion…and needs of a new high school, and then revamp of West Tisbury School, and then OB…. Sorry, but he couldn’t even be a success with a problem that was so obviouslynneeded, and right across the sstreet….

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