School Committee names new superintendent of schools
The School Committee voted unanimously Thursday night to appoint Dr. Matthew D’Andrea as the new superintendent of Wareham Schools, effective July 1.
D’Andrea currently serves as superintendent on Martha’s Vineyard — a position he’s held since 2015 — and previously taught in Wareham and served as a principal in the Old Rochester Regional School District.
He was one of two finalists selected by the Superintendent Search Committee — the other being current Assistant Superintendent Dr. Andrea Schwamb, who has worked in Wareham schools since 2014.
“Dr. Schwamb is still our assistant superintendent and we will still benefit from the passion and intensity that she brings to that role,” Rossi said. “I honestly think that under the guidance of a well-established and highly involved superintendent that she will also grow and thrive in that position. The collaboration potential between the two of them would really bring our district to absolutely incredible places.”
The two finalists were chosen from an initial pool of 19 applicants. They were screened by the search committee and both took tours of the Wareham Schools. The School Committee also visited Martha’s Vineyard to get a better sense of D’Andrea’s work.
Finally, both were interviewed by the School Committee in open sessions this week before the committee deliberated and made a vote — also in public session.
D’Andrea said he had only applied for the role in Wareham, and noted that when he left his teaching job in the district he felt he might come back someday.
“I want to be here in Wareham,” D’Andrea said. That made an impression on several of the committee members, they said during deliberations, noting that Schwamb had applied to several other districts.
While on Martha’s Vineyard, D’Andrea said one of his most significant contributions was working to stabilize and strengthen the special education programs. He also worked to create new programs to support the island’s rapidly-growing population of English language learners — mostly from Brazil.
Among his efforts to support that group, which grew from 75 to 450 students during his tenure, is the Newcomer program. It’s taught exclusively in Brazilian Portuguese, and is open to new students who don’t yet speak any English. The program serves to help those students get acclimated to their new school and begin the process of learning a new language.
Another initiative of D’Andrea’s that was praised by the committee is his practice of hosting open meetings for parents and staff on alternating weeks. Those meetings, he said, are a time for him to communicate what’s going on in schools and hear from parents and staff.
D’Andrea said that one of his priorities is to be out in the schools every day. He attends games, performances, and stops by frequently during lunches to eat with a table of students.
“I love going in and having lunch and sitting with the kids,” D’Andrea said. “Kindergarteners love it, high schoolers don’t.”
That time in schools is crucial to understanding what’s going on in the district, he explained. School climate — the quality of school life — is very important to D’Andrea, he said, and he measures that through his time in schools and through surveys given to students, staff and parents.
“The number one factor that contributes to student success is the teacher in the classroom, and providing teachers with professional development and time to work together to ensure that teachers have the tools that they need. the training that they need, the time to learn from each other,” D’Andrea said.
Schwamb said that her time visiting other districts as a superintendent candidate showed her how exceptional Wareham’s schools are.
“I’ve visited a lot of districts this year and we are by far in a fantastic place, ahead of the curve in many areas, even in wealthy districts that I’ve visited,” she said.
Reaching out to families and developing relationships with them is crucial, she said.
Asked about initiatives she’s led, Schwamb spoke about working to improve early literacy in Wareham schools. When she arrived, she said that students’ reading comprehension was being measured through scantron tests. The district’s only scantron machine was in the central office, so all tests were filtered through that single machine — meaning that teachers didn’t get the students' scores until a significant time later. She brought in a new assessment system that gives teachers immediate results in a user-friendly manner, allowing them to respond to students’ needs more immediately. She also worked with experts out-of-district and developed new curriculum based on an understanding of the brain. Those methods, including strengthening the corpus callosum through certain movements, brought clear results, she said.
She’s also started social-emotional learning committees at each school and was able to get grant funding to support the teachers doing that work. The state’s existing social-emotional curriculum, which is spread across academic subjects, is not sufficient for students struggling due to the impact of the pandemic, Schwamb said.
Asked about improving the school district’s reputation, Schwamb spoke about the importance of making staff feel “supported, cared about, and like somebody has their back.”
“When people are having positive experiences every day, the reputation will start to change,” Schwamb said. “When people feel good about what they’re doing and like they can take some risks, really good things can happen.”
She said that regardless of whether she was selected for the superintendent job, she’s proud of the work she’s done in the district.
“Either way, it’s a great place to be,” Schwamb said.