The All-Island School Committee will vote at their next meeting whether or not to offer Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith the role of superintendent for the remaining two years of Matt D’Andrea’s contract.
During a Zoom meeting of the committee Wednesday, Superintendent Matt D’Andrea listed a number of reasons why Smith would be the best, and potentially the only immediate successor, if the Island hopes to avoid the uncertainty of being without a fully-appointed superintendent during a pivotal time.
“I feel that I have a unique perspective as the outgoing superintendent,” D’Andrea said. He said he had to deal with the same challenges a new superintendent would face coming to work on the Vineyard — housing challenges, multiple school districts, several building projects going on in different schools, and shortages of qualified educators and administrators.
D’Andrea said the challenges of working and living here are enough to make the search for a new superintendent particularly difficult.
Although he said the Vineyard community is one he will always cherish as wonderful and unique, he noted, “There are few folks who have the additional time, money, and patience to contend with all the housing challenges that someone might have to confront when moving to an island.” As a result, when a potential candidate gets further into the hiring process and starts to see the high cost of living and the lack of housing, they sometimes get scared away. “That’s a huge piece of this puzzle,” D’Andrea added.
Additionally, the district is very complex, he said. With six towns, six budgets, and six school committees, the Island needs someone who will “hit the ground running,” without needing too much time to get acclimated to the role. On top of that, there are several high-profile building projects happening in local schools, employee contracts are being negotiated, and there are numerous personnel issues that need to be remedied, D’Andrea said. For this reason, he said, Smith would be the best person to lead.
“Richie Smith has been by my side the past seven years. He isn’t just an internal candidate — he is a well-known candidate. There’s a big difference there,” D’Andrea said. He noted Smith’s qualifications, having also served as principal of both the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury schools, and called him knowledgeable, measured in his decisionmaking, and a person of character.
“He knows the district and the district knows him,” he said. “I had two years left on my contract. Ask Richie to fill those two years as superintendent. Not acting, not interim.” He said he believes an appointment should be made by a full vote of the school committee.
Smith said he will serve proudly in whatever role, and acknowledged the need for an immediate solution, with D’Andrea departing so soon and so many challenges still on the horizon. “If we do a search right now, and that person starts on July 1, 2023, that person wouldn’t really start in earnest until Sept. 1, 2023,” Smith said. “That period of time is a period of uncertainty. So I would ask you to consider appointing me as full superintendent for the full two years of Matt’s remaining contract.”
If Smith is chosen as full superintendent for the next two years, he said, he will assist in the search for a new superintendent after his first year of tenure, and, although he would be in the running for a full-time position, “would support any new superintendent that you bring in, after two years of allowing me to be full superintendent.”
Massachusetts Association of School Committees representative Jim Hardy stressed that there is no required process that the committee must follow in order to hire a new superintendent.
“The process you elect is the one you want to use. You don’t even have to have a hiring process, you could simply appoint the next superintendent and be done with it,” Hardy said.
Most committees, according to Hardy, will elect to go through some sort of public hiring process, even if they feel the most qualified candidate for the job is already within the school district.
Hardy referred to this common option as the “intergalactic look under every rock search” during which any candidate who holds a superintendent’s license or is eligible to receive one can apply. “At the end of the process, then you would make a determination as to whether you feel the next superintendent is in that pool or not,” Hardy said.
He said that while he was assisting in the 2014–15 search that led to D’Andrea being hired, the school system formed a superintendent search subcommittee that consisted of parents, teachers, school committee members, administrators, and representatives from a broad swath of the community.
“There were about 15 people in total in that group. They were responsible for reviewing the applications, then inviting X number of people in for preliminary interviews,” Hardy said. At the end of that process, they made a recommendation for finalists to the full All-Island committee, at which point the entire process became public.
The preliminary screening, according to Hardy, is able to be held privately in executive session with the search subcommittee, but any deliberation of the full school committee must be held in open session, apart from litigation, negotiations, and other specific reasons.
Committee member Alex Salop wondered about the deterrent effect, apart from the housing crisis, of challenges specific to Martha’s Vineyard that a potential applicant would have to grapple with. Hardy said there are some people who see the difficult situation Island schools are in as a challenge that they want to overcome. “Some people would look at this and say, ‘This is my opportunity to make a mark and be a part of something — to have my name on something,” Hardy said. “Maybe that’s what you need, maybe it’s not. It’s very hard to say without knowing the candidates. Someone who thrives on chaos. And then once the chaos is gone, they go, ‘OK, time to go find another place that’s in chaos.’”