Like many in Newburyport, we have been surprised by the turn of events that transpired at the top levels of the Newburyport school system over the past week or so.
In the course of a few days, the assistant superintendent resigned, the superintendent came under criticism from the mayor for his leadership, the mayor set up a meeting to discuss his leadership, the mayor canceled the meeting after discovering it would have violated the state’s Open Meeting Laws, and now, the matter has been put off to an uncertain future date.
For now, this is receding into the background. But it is not over, and at this point it can’t be washed away. These are serious accusations that have been leveled by Mayor Donna Holaday against Superintendent Marc Kerble. They have damaged Kerble’s reputation and generated questions, if not doubt, about his leadership.
Newburyporters deserve a more detailed and conclusive account of what the concerns are regarding the management of the school department, and what the justifications are for them. And Kerble deserves a chance to hear these charges and defend himself. The School Committee is planning a “retreat” meeting next week, at which at least some of these issues are expected to be discussed. We hope that the committee will tackle this issue head-on, and come to a conclusion that puts this issue to rest.
We’ve not seen the kind of criticism leveled at a superintendent by a sitting mayor, nor has any recent superintendent faced such a management conflict.
The resignation of Assistant Superintendent Deirdre Farrell last week was the catalyst that set things in motion, and it’s clear it launched a concerted attempt to draw negative attention to Kerble.
Farrell was expected to play a key role in managing the two major school building projects that are about to get underway -- the building of a new Bresnahan Elementary School and the renovation of the Nock school. Instead, she took a job in Amesbury’s school department and addressed her resignation letter to the mayor. The letter offered praise to the mayor, and all Kerble got was a “cc” of the letter. This seemed to be a directed slight against Kerble.
The mayor criticized Kerble’s leadership, and pointed to a School Committee meeting that took place in late July, during Yankee Homecoming Week, traditionally a week when the city’s eyes and attention are absorbed by the citywide celebration. At that meeting, the School Committee did something of note -- it gave Kerble a “needs improvement” grade, using a new set of evaluation tools that in the coming years all teachers will be required to undergo.
Kerble had volunteered to be the first to be subjected to the new evaluation tool. Teachers are already apprehensive about these evaluations. No doubt after seeing what happened to Kerble, they will feel even more uneasy.
There has been a concerted effort on the mayor’s part to draw attention to Kerble’s leadership skills. The attention has been gotten, and now the rest of the story needs to be told.