By Lynne Hendricks
---- — NEWBURYPORT – In the wake of Superintendent Marc Kerble’s announcement he’d be retiring at year’s end, Mayor Donna Holaday put aside her differences with the district’s chief administrator to laud him for his commitment to education and the city’s kids.
Though the relationship between the two fell on rocky times over the resignation of Kerble’s second in command, Holaday said this week that strife between the two was overblown.
“I just think there were things that I disagreed with him on how he responded and handled,” said Holaday. “That’s going to happen when you’re in two leadership positions. We always continued to work together – there’s no question about that. Even during the more difficult situations we continued to always be professional and work together despite some comments back and forth and articles in the newspapers that fueled some of that.”
Disagreements aside, she offered praise for the superintendent for how much he gave to the district over the past three years.
“He’s given so much of his life to education,” said Holaday. “We had a wonderful meeting Thursday night, and what I said to him is I’ve never met the kind of person who has the kind of passion and love for education he has. It’s all about the kids. He was everywhere. I think given some of the challenges that have happened in the district, he weighed all of his options and made the decision that was in his best interest, to retire.”
With two top leaders vacating the central office the same year, and the district still attempting to fill a Director of Pupil Services position left vacant by former Special Education Director Karen Brann, who resigned amid personal problems, Holaday declined to engage in a conversation about administrative turnover.
“We’ve had that conversation and now the conversation has to be on moving forward,” said Holaday. “We’ve got a lot going on in the schools. Jim Picone (interim finance director) has been a good addition to the team. I think we’re moving in the right direction with what we’re looking at. We can’t look back anymore.”
That sentiment was echoed by School Committee Steve Cole, who also wished Kerble well.
“He’s worked diligently for the school district,” said Cole. “He especially recognizes the value of educational staff and has upheld that level of high professional respect. I do value my experiences working with Dr. Kerble as well as the knowledge that I have gained from him.”
With Kerble’s departure in 6 months, Cole said, there will be gaps to fill that add to existing ones pertaining to special education and finance. But he said he had faith in the organization to move forward.
“I’m confident we can move forward and close a lot of these gaps,” said Cole. “We do have solid school teachers in our system.”
Other school committee members, like Vice Chair Cheryl Sweeney, expressed sadness over Kerble’s decision to retire, calling his period of tenure in Newburyport a period of moving forward. Veteran member Bruce Menin, who has served on the committee for 12 years, offered the highest praise for the superintendent, whom he credits with making enormous headway in improving school culture.
“What the school system has needed for some time is a cultural change – a change in the way we conduct our business and that takes a lot of time,” said Menin. “It’s like riding shotgun on a glacier or trying to turn an aircraft carrier around. Things move slowly.”
Kerble’s openness, said Menin, was instrumental in improving the working relationship between administration and the Newburyport Teacher’s Association.
“People forget that we went from four years of one-year contracts, and within two months of his hiring we had negotiated a 3-year contract that allowed us to formulate our budget. That’s a function of the teachers union having some trust in him.”
Menin touted Kerble’s strengths as a strong educator who oversaw a seamless negotiation with teachers on the state’s new teacher evaluation system, an increase in the way data is used to advance student achievement, and some changes in the main office at the high school which saw two administrative positions reduced to one – a move popular with parents at the time.
“I’m of the belief that not all turnover is negative,” said Menin. “Sometimes it’s time for some people to move on.”
As one who spoke out against the mayor’s handling of her working relationship with Kerble and the school committee, taking exception with a letter Holaday penned to the city council expressing concerns about the departure of Kerble’s second in command, Menin said the mayor didn’t leave Kerble many options.
“I was deeply disappointed but I was not surprised,” said Menin of Kerble’s announcement. “I think that there never really was any resolution – a comfortable resolution – to the issues that were raised by the mayor. The superintendent has to work with the mayor and the mayor has to be able to work with the superintendent, and they have to feel comfortable with each other. I don’t know if we ever got to that point after the big blow up.”
He views the departure as a loss for the district, and recounted the hours Kerble worked on district goals, often emailing him well past midnight about something the two had discussed earlier I the day.
“I believe we were lucky to get him,” said Menin. “I think his impact is going to be very significant and over time we’ll realize how significant it is. He put everything he had into the position.”
Moving forward for the next six months, he anticipates Kerble will offer more positive changes to the schools, like restructuring central office so that it works more efficiently and negotiating another contract with the teacher’s union.
“I’m going to really miss Marc,” he said. “I think we will have benefited significantly from his being there. In the end you can’t really ask more than that – to know you have made a difference in a very positive way.”