Richie Smith is the new superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, for a period of two years.
During Thursday’s meeting of the All-Island School Committee (AISC), members voted 11-3 to appoint Smith as the superintendent for the remainder of what would have been outgoing Superintendent Matt D’Andrea’s remaining term. Smith will take on his new role at the outset of the next budget year, which begins on July 1.
Prior to the vote, there was some discussion among school committee members about the period that Smith’s contract would be valid for, how long the state-mandated evaluation period for the new super would be, and what that period would entail.
Committee member Robert Lionette wondered what process the group would use to create goals for Smith. “This is going to kick off in 28 days,” Lionette said. “My concern is that, having not gone through a process, we don’t know what those goals are.”
AISC chair Kate DeVane said Smith interviewed for the position of superintendent when the committee landed on D’Andrea during the last search process. She added that Smith spoke at some length about his goals for the school system at the last AISC meeting, and she believes that is a sufficient roadmap.
DeVane explained that the process of implementing a new superintendent usually involves the new hire drafting a set of specific goals for their term. Those goals are then reviewed and adjusted by the personnel subcommittee, and a final roadmap of goals is brought back to the full committee.
Committee member Mike Watts wondered why the period of two years was chosen. DeVane said it’s because that is the remaining time left on D’Andrea’s contract. But the primary reason, she said, was to allow for a one-year evaluation period, where Smith would work closely with school officials and administrators to progress toward the goals he sets forth at the beginning of his tenure. At the end of that one year, the AISC looks at whether or not the superintendent has satisfactorily worked toward or achieved those goals.
For committee member Kris O’Brien, reinvigorating the personnel subcommittee would be a good first step. She suggested meeting monthly with Smith to “keep tabs on things” and stressed a serious commitment to the evaluation process.
Committee member Rizwan Malik asked if the establishing of goals and the evaluation period are two separate processes, to which committee member Amy Houghton said that the personal and professional goals created by a new superintendent will inform the criteria for evaluation.
Committee member Jen Cutrer said she was given a petition with over 40 signatures from the Tisbury School staff in support of appointing Smith, and DeVane added that she also received multiple correspondences from parents and teachers advocating for Smith.
But committee member Kim Kirk said that although there is clearly a significant amount of support, she thinks there still should be an official process through which the appointment should be made. “It shouldn’t be personal. This isn’t a school election or a campaign,” Kirk said. “I wasn’t on the school committee seven years ago when the interview [with Smith] took place, so I am not privy to that, and I think I would have liked more information, the opportunity to ask more questions, and also the recognition that perhaps voices that are not positive are not being heard.” Kirk noted that there was divergence among the committee members as to whether or not to bring on an interim, so she wants the personnel subcommittee to be reconvened in order to bring all voices to the table, “as opposed to just some of us.”
Committee member Alex Salop said he doesn’t want to conflate the typical level of oversight that a new superintendent would be subject to with a level of scrutiny that would make it hard for Smith to do his job effectively.
Houghton clarified that the one-year evaluation process is not oversight, it’s the process through which a new superintendent’s fit for the job is judged, based on pre-established criteria. “Allowing for a one-year evaluation period gives us the opportunity to see if Richie achieves the goals he sets out to do,” Houghton said, adding that, if the committee were to opt toward a two-year evaluation, she would like to see the contract extended to a three-year contract.
With Smith taking on his new role in less than a month, Lionette said he is concerned about the upcoming assistant superintendent vacancy. He wondered what the process would be for bringing on a new assistant superintendent.
Smith said monthly meetings with the personnel subcommittee would satisfy his intentions to work “hand in hand” with school officials on a regular basis. One of the reasons Smith said he wanted to be superintendent was because “being a superintendent allows you to be visionary.” He said that before filling the assistant superintendent vacancy, he wants to undertake an initiative to potentially restructure the central office, and flip how the superintendent’s office serves the school system. “We want to have our schools inform how the central office should support them,” he said.