PEABODY — Peabody "native son" and interim Superintendent Marc Kerble was acquainted with the late Superintendent Cara Murtagh, but he knew her father and mother much better.
Kerble worked for her father, Jack Murtagh, when he was a young special education teacher at the old Kiley School and Jack Murtagh was principal. Jack Murtagh was also Kerble's sixth-grade teacher.
As part of the district review team two years ago, sent by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to look at Peabody's schools, Kerble recalls meeting with Cara Murtagh and telling her, "Your father would be so proud of you."
That was when she was the assistant superintendent.
Then, in June, at a rally for peace outside City Hall, Kerble had a moment to tell Murtagh: "You did something your dad could never do, you're the superintendent," he said, lowering his voice for emphasis. "Your father would be out of his mind if he knew that."
Cara Murtagh's death on Nov. 29 at age 44 caused an outpouring of shock and grief for the compassionate school leader. Many are still trying to come to grips with her death.
Kerble, 65, who now lives in Salem, New Hampshire, said it has been kismet he has been picked to lead his hometown school system.
"If you believe in faith, and you have faith and you believe in the way things happen," Kerble said, "the last place I expect to be is here ... knowing that I thought Cara would be here for the next 20 years ... And for me to be here when I thought starting last August I was going to be in several different places, I just did, and you know what, it didn't materialize. And I said to God: 'Put me where they need me,'" said Kerble, who became choked up.
Before he retired in 2013 after three years as the Newburyport superintendent, Kerble entertained a wish to someday run Peabody schools.
After teaching in Peabody, he became a curriculum coordinator in Haverhill, an assistant superintendent in Winchester, then superintendent in Newburyport.
For Kerble, a self-proclaimed "Peabody guy," taking the top school job now, even if only temporarily, has been bittersweet.
He spoke about the interconnections of the profession. He once worked for the interim superintendent in Marblehead, William McAlduff Jr., in Winchester. He thought he might be going to Marblehead to fill a vacancy for an interim superintendent, but he never got that call, which is why he is such a believer in faith.
"Everybody ... has been terrific to me," he said. "So, I laughed. I would always say: "Gee, I left here as like the native son, I come back like everybody's dad, because I'm that much older."
School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne knew Kerble growing up; he was a senior on the football team when Dunne was an eighth-grader in the band. She recalls that, in discussions about potential administrators, "people would always mention Marc."
"It's a well-deserved reputation," she said.
One of his strengths is he's a "Peabody guy," so Kerble said he can be himself. He's a 1972 Peabody High graduate, and his sister and other family still live in the city.
After earning a bachelor's degree in special education from then Bridgewater State College, he started teaching in Peabody. He spent one year at the Higgins when it was a junior high school, then taught for about eight years at Kiley.
During a reorganization of the schools, Kerble went to teach at the Higgins Middle School for eight years. His last teaching job in Peabody was as a study skills teacher. Kerble also has a master's degree in elementary school administration from then Salem State College, and a Doctor of Education in leadership in schooling from then University of Lowell.
He said his six-month contract as interim superintendent pays a salary of $85,000.
Vision for the schools
Kerble understands that Murtagh had a vision to move the schools forward.
"There's a vision, and then there is a strategic plan, OK. I think the vision is great and I'm going to turn it into a framework so it doesn't get lost," Kerble said. He's going to use the district review from two years ago to help guide him.
"I'm different than Cara. I don't like to have my hands in everything," he said. "But the things I care about, major drivers, I care about those things. The drivers cause the outcomes. I can't micromanage. I have to have faith in people will do their job. At this point, everybody has to step up."
In the meantime, the district has hired retired school administrator Karen McGovern as interim assistant principal at Peabody High. Kerble worked with McGovern in Peabody early in his career.
Dunne said Mayor Ted Bettencourt, the chairperson of the School Committee, plans to give an update on the search process for a superintendent on Jan. 14. The district is working with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to post the position and come up with a list of candidates.
"It's like homecoming," Kerble said of his job. "So for me, this is great. I can just be myself, and so get things done."