Peabody superintendent has a vision for every child

PEABODY — School Superintendent Cara E. Murtagh said she is balancing her enthusiasm about the first day of school Sept. 3 with a reminder that a successful academic year boils down to focusing on “every student every day.”

“That is my leadership motto,” she said.

Murtagh is starting her second year as the leader of a 6,000-student school system run by 1,000 educators, administrators and other employees in various supporting roles. 

She was in the driver’s seat last year as the city’s lead educator, but being new to the superintendent’s job meant she needed time to listen and learn from colleagues, elected officials and parents while developing strategic plans for the schools.

Now it’s time, said the career Peabody school employee, to put the plans into action. 

“Safety and communication are two of my top goals. We have to make kids safe, happy and healthy. This triggers down to our entire staff — then learning can begin,” Murtagh said. 

Do your best every day is the essence of her work motto, but Murtagh’s leadership approach is guided by what she calls a “vision of the graduate.” From her perspective, every phase of education during childhood and adolescence can be broken down into the role it plays in preparing a student for higher education and a career. 

Academic readiness is at the root of Murtagh’s academic philosophy, and she said education action plans that will be executed this year by teams of teachers will be grounded in another Murtagh philosophy: “Conquer challenges and celebrate our success.”

Even as she peers over the 2019-2020 academic year’s horizon, Murtagh is tackling specific projects. 

With approval from the state School Building Authority in hand, school officials will launch an assessment study this fall to determine if Welch Elementary School, built in 1973, should be renovated or replaced.

Murtagh said the school’s roof, windows and heating, ventilation and cooling systems are all in need of repair or upgrades. Welch isn’t the city’s oldest school — South Elementary built in 1950 holds that distinction — but Murtagh said Welch is in worse shape than other schools. 

An accreditation review for Veterans Memorial High School is also on tap but not before one of four finalists for the high school principal job is hired. Murtagh anticipates a late September visit to the high school by an accreditation team. The detailed review process generates an evaluation studied carefully by college admissions officers. 

Peabody Gives — Murtagh’s overarching name for school-based volunteer and community service initiatives — will expand this school year. Completing 40 hours of community service is a graduation requirement and Murtagh is proud of students’ efforts to launch volunteer projects, including a middle school clothing driver and mentoring efforts. 

“Peabody is generosity of spirit. I want to build passion and enthusiasm into a student’s day,” she said. 

It’s a week away from starting but 2019-2020 is off to a good start with a summertime parent-student information center that ran between July 5 and Aug. 16 with information on school year transportation, summer reading and other basic questions like obtaining adequate insurance for Chromebook laptop computers provided to students. 

“It was our go-to place where parents could do everything in one spot,” Murtagh said.

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