NEWBURYPORT — The School Committee steered clear of addressing a public critique of Superintendent Marc Kerble last night as it tackled the topic of district leadership in the wake of Assistant Superintendent Deirdre Farrell’s resignation.
In its first public meeting since Farrell submitted her resignation to the mayor last month, the School Committee discussed how to fill the void she leaves.
But while members avoided the issue of Mayor Donna Holaday’s public rebuke of Kerble and his leadership of the city’s schools following Farrell’s announcement, several residents who spoke during a public comment period were not content to let the matter pass without weighing in.
One parent, Brenda Reffett, wanted an explanation for what she called the “unprofessional” attack on Kerble by the mayor.
“I saw some really tough conversation and I was pretty surprised by that,” said Reffett, defending the superintendent.
To the mayor, Reffett said, “I don’t think you need to trash people because someone leaves. You made those statements publicly. You owe the public an explanation.”
Reffett lauded the School Committee for the professional way it presented a public evaluation of Kerble over the summer, but she said she felt “other people” handled it in a more “personal way.” She also questioned how the school district, which successfully conveyed its case for two, multi-million-dollar school building projects to voters in June, could have things turn downhill so quickly.
“How is it that it fell apart in such a short amount of time?” Reffett asked.
Reffett, a former City Council president, laid it at the mayor’s doorstep, saying to read that Holaday has lost faith in the leadership of the schools was concerning and had shaken her confidence. Looking ahead to the two school projects, Reffett said she and other parents she’s talked to have lingering questions that need to be resolved.
“I was completely disappointed with the way this went down,” Reffett said. “You asked for our trust. How you are going to rebuild that trust is going to be interesting to watch from the sidelines.”
Others like Dominique Dear and Ralph Orlando stepped forward to seek more communication on the issue.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who were astonished by this,” Dear said.
School Committee member Bruce Menin requested a rescheduling of a retreat planned for last week to discuss the issue in more detail.
“There were a number of issues raised for me by the way things occurred over the last two weeks,” Menin said. “I’ve had a great deal of feedback from the community to go over that.”
The committee has tentatively rescheduled the retreat for next Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m., with the location of the meeting to be determined.
Last night’s discussion also included Kerble’s plan to hire an interim administrative finance director to absorb Farrell’s duties on budget issues, and perhaps another person to look after the two school building projects currently under Farrell’s care.