Cara Murtagh (Courtesy Photo)
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Murtagh unanimous choice for Peabody superintendent

PEABODY -- A familiar face in the Peabody schools is the choice as the district's next superintendent.

Tuesday night, the School Committee unanimously voted to enter into negotiations with assistant superintendent Cara Murtagh for the top job in the schools.

The vote comes just one day after the committee wrapped up interviews with five finalists for the position. While the committee struck quickly on appointing a new superintendent, it was a move committee member Jarrod Hochman said he's been contemplating at least since the committee's failed attempt last winter to hire a replacement for interim superintendent Herb Levine.

"I was intrigued by some of the candidates, intrigued by some of their credentials on paper, disappointed by some of the interviews, and excited by some of the interviews," said Hochman. "But everything led me back to my thought going into the interviews that our assistant superintendent, who I have worked closely with during her five years as an assistant and for three years before that as a principal, would be a highly qualified and capable leader for our school district."

Hochman was not alone in highlighting the hard work they say Murtagh has put into the district and love and compassion she has for the city's students and parents.

Committee member John Olimpio said he was impressed with the way Murtagh handled the questioning by the board at her interview Monday.

"She handled the questions without skipping a beat and showed confidence and acknowledged areas of concern," said Olimpio. "She knows what works and what needs change in the district."

Given her years of experience in the district and that she is already working alongside Levine, committee member Joseph Amico said Murtagh will have the best opportunity of any of the candidates to hit the ground running.

"I was highly impressed with the résumés of all the candidates, they blew me away," said committee member Brandi Carpenter. "But that said, Cara does have a little something extra."

The other four finalists interviewed over the past week were Wilmington assistant superintendent and former Beverly High School Principal Sean Gallagher, Weymouth Assistant Superintendent Susan Kustka, Medford High School Headmaster John Perella, and Alexandra Montes-McNeil, an instructional superintendent on the superintendent leadership team for the Boston public schools.

During the failed superintendent search during the 2016-17 school year, the process was bogged down by a late start, some bad weather, and several finalists accepting positions in other districts before Peabody could make a final decision.

This year, the district jumped out in front of the field and there was little hesitation to make a quick decision.

"I'll be honest, I came here tonight anticipating asking for a second round of interviews, and Ms. Murtagh would have been on that list with one other candidate," said committee member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne. "I think everyone here is in agreement that (Murtagh) has been an amazing person to work with and I believe she will be an outstanding superintendent."

Murtagh, who typically sits next to Levine at School Committee meetings, stepped away as the board discussed the superintendent appointment. While she did not make any official statement following a brief recess, she did receive a standing ovation from the committee members and school officials present for the meeting.

The superintendent position was listed with a salary range of $175,000-$190,000.

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