Schools stuck in the web of typical Peabody politics

16 Nov


By Bob Croce. EOP Publisher

Since the Peabody School Committee coronated Cara Murtagh as our next superintendent of schools earlier this week, I’ve heard some people say how she’s worthy of the position because she’s an awesomely nice person, and a tremendously hard worker.

It appears that our next super is likeable and popular with the Carroll School crowd, and respected for her “niceness” from the Burke School to the Brown School. And . . . who am I to disagree?

I give. I believe you. I trust that you are correct that Cara Murtagh, who for the past five years has served the district as an assistant super, and before that as principal at the Carroll, is an educational version of Mary Poppins and Mother Teresa, and each day straps on her hard hat and gets to work!

Although those are all admirable traits, it still doesn’t make her qualified to lead a struggling 6,000-student district, where a high school is on the verge of being taken over by the state, and where teacher morale, in the words of JD Clampett, “is lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. Weeeee doggie!”

Since it’s sort of irrelevant at this point, I won’t go into specifics about the CVs of the other four candidates, but I will say that at least two had track records that were far more noteworthy. As we reported in this space back in April after the school committee botched the first search designed to replace the current Interim Superintendent for Life, any future search was going to be a total sham. Murtagh only needed to get a couple more certifications, leap over a few more state education department bureaucratic hurdles, and she was going to be your new superintendent of schools.

This most-recent search was sham, conducted at taxpayer expense. The old joke in politics is that, “after a nationwide search, we found this great candidate right here in our own backyard. Wink, wink.”

murtaghAnd indeed, the hiring of Ms. Murtagh is a living example of that old one-liner: She was born to the Peabody royal blue; daughter of a politically connected long-time (and somewhat legendary) Peabody educator; came up through the system, and along the way always showed her deference to the powers that be. A true, old-school, loyalist “Peeb,” whose family knew how to make the right campaign contributions. Blah, blah, blah, but good for her!

This, BTW, tends to always be the case in Peabody, where we have an insular aversion toward going outside of our fair little burg to find the best and the brightest. We see this behavior continuously across city departments: If you’re not on the “friends and family plan,” and they can’t trace your family’s roots back to your grandpa working the tack room at AC Lawrence, Peabody’s powerful don’t care that you have the right stuff.

Murtagh had the Peabody pedigree, and she played the game. So, “tell her what she’s won, Johnny” How about a taxpayer-funded salary of more than $200k a year after figuring in benefits?

Meanwhile, meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

The fact is that, even if a candidate with Maria Montessori’s resume applied, Cara Murtagh was still going to get the gig as grand poohbah of our $75M district.

And so, we interrupt this blog post at to evoke a statement that is an oldie but still a goodie. What was it that Einstein said was the definition of insanity?

Well, Peabody’s school committee is indeed doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Why? Because they wanted to replace their bosom buddy, Herbie Levine, with someone they can continue to control. However, Peabody we have a problem:

There are so many challenges for our school system right now that we can’t afford another “go along to get along” superintendent. We need someone to come in and make the administrators — instead of the teachers — uncomfortable for a change. We need a leader with vision, and not chip off the old Levine “yes man” block. It’s nice to be nice, but this is a time for some Belichickian discipline. After all, the problems in Peabody’s schools “are what they are,” and it might be time to start trading some administrators to Cleveland.

Look, at the end of the day, and even though I view this as a purely political hire, I truly do hope that Ms. Murtagh succeeds, and after years of mediocrity, Peabody’s schools are finally put back on track.

Selfishly, and although my kids are grown, and I have no direct rooting interest, I know that great schools are a tremendous boost to the value of my home. But I also agree with old George, the original Peeb, who said that education is “a debt due from present to future generations.

It’s only too bad that, in Peabody, our motto has become “the current people in power are more important than the fate of future generations.”

11 Responses to “Schools stuck in the web of typical Peabody politics”

  1. Long time teacher November 21, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

    What I do not understand is why the parents of our students are not outraged. PVMHS students are attending classes with textbooks that are more than 10 years old in some cases. Many classrooms lack heat and a/c. Often when it rains outside, it rains inside. The new turf field, the new basketball floor and new cafeteria tables seem to take the headlines. The learning happens inside our poorly maintained classrooms. Yet, we appoint another member of the same old regime. Why is this ok with the citizens of Peabody?

    • Yeah Right November 21, 2017 at 7:12 pm #

      Because their taxes are the lowest on the north shore. Sadly, that seems to be THE top priority for the citizens (and leadership) of this city.

      I’ve argued for years that this is a very short-sighted approach to city management, but to no avail. It appears people do not see the correlation between strong school systems and higher property values. Unfortunately, several young families that I know are leaving/have left the city for this very reason.

      I would also add that the nursing home population of Peabody is not really helping matters when it comes to these elections. They tend to vote (in very high numbers) for the candidates that promise low taxes, not ones who prize a strong public education system.

      • Just Waiting to See November 22, 2017 at 10:43 am #

        Taxes have nothing to do with competency in education and good management practices.

        Look at GE for example. It was one of the biggest most profitable and admired companies in the WORLD. Now, it has been run down by incompetency at the top.

        Peabody Pride is in: Football, Basketball, Baseball, Soccer, etc. You can read all about it in the Salem News Sports section. Did you know the Mayor played sports at Peabody High? Education takes the back seat to sports. Teachers must be sports promoters. Go Tanners! How much does the Sports Director make?

        Higher property values only helps cities (for more wasteful spending) and the people who are “bailing out of here”. The idea that your home is an investment is really a myth that you should have learned about after the last real estate crash not too long ago.

      • Yeah Right November 24, 2017 at 3:13 am #

        You must be new here. Taxes have EVERYTHING to do with it. Don’t believe me? Suggest a modest tax hike for new text books, or continuing education for teachers, and see what happens. We need to invest in education, and we cannot do that without raising taxes. Until we do we will continue to attract inexperienced educators, who flee the district the second they realize how much more they could be making in another city.

        The new sports director makes significantly less than that fraud Herbie, and much less than the woefully under-qualified Ms Murtagh is scheduled to make next year. We have to pay our AD market value, look around and see what others are making on the north shore. We waste money on things like turf fields, new basketball courts AND auditorium seating. These things are updated because they’re the only part of the school that many parents, and city officials, ever see. It’s all about appearances, not real change. Lipstick on a pig.

        Your home is an investment, the biggest investment most people will make in their lifetime. An economics 101 class should have taught you that. Do yourself (and us) a favor and use the equity in your house to move to Florida. Just shoot me a message if you would like me to explain what “equity” is.

  2. Peabody Parent November 22, 2017 at 7:46 am #

    I also believe it’s because parents just don’t know what’s going on at our schools. Let’s be honest, HS students are not wealth of info (well mine is not anyway), nor do they necessarily know the politics, internal issues with teachers, etc. I’d love to see more activity on this site, from all sides. I’ve learned a lot since I stumbled upon it a month ago. Let’s keep sharing the details of the underbelly of Peabody and let’s all get more informed. We need to be informed before we can react.

  3. Anonymous November 26, 2017 at 10:45 pm #

    They next nationwide search is the pick for the new assistant superintendent. Anybody out there have a guess who that will be???? That should be pretty sad when the independent search begins.

    • Yeah Right November 27, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

      Herbie!!! Sadly, I’m only half-joking.

      There’s also Marc Higgins….he came back from Salem for some reason, maybe this is the reason?

      • tannervillefan January 3, 2018 at 2:46 pm #

        Mr. Higgins would look awful good at the HS as Principle.

  4. anonymous November 27, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

    While there seems to be no qualifications for being hired for any of these positions I would assume the next assistant superintendent will somebody the school committee thinks has that little something extra. If that is the expectation of this school committee why not just hire a former basketball teammate of the mayors. Their performance will be the same.

    • Just Waiting to See November 28, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

      Be careful of what you wish for.

  5. Anonymous January 16, 2018 at 10:16 pm #

    Maybe the school committee should look into why parents select a school like St Johns grammar school which is 100 years old over our new 91 million higgins jr high. They pay good money for St. John,s while the higgins is free. Better education does not come from
    higher taxes and new schools. It comes from caring teachers and good home life

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