PEABODY — In addition to the day-to-day job of running the schools, interim Superintendent Marc Kerble has been asked to help heal the community.
The city and the schools not only have been dealing with the "major blow" from the death of Superintendent Cara Murtagh at the end of November, Kerble said.
They have also been dealing with the deaths of Jackson Frechette, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at the Higgins Middle School who died Nov. 20 after he was struck by a car on Route 114 on Andover Street; and Peabody Veterans Memorial High Assistant Principal Judith "Judie" Maniatis, who died on Nov. 30.
"So, when I met with the mayor and the School Committee, they asked me about how I see things," Kerble said. "And I said that I really want to be helpful, I want to be supportive, and that I know a lot of things because I've had many positions. I was superintendent in Newburyport for three years so I understand the job, but I understand the grieving process people are going through."
"So, what the School Committee really asked me was to help heal the community," said Kerble, who has come up with a caring and healing plan for the district.
The goal is to help those in the city and at the schools who were close to Murtagh, Maniatis or Frechette, as well as those who have recently lost loved ones.
To prepare, Kerble spoke with Danvers Superintendent Lisa Dana and his cousin Stephanie Beilin, who is a counselor at Danvers High. Kerble said he was told the most important thing is to care for people long-term. Their ideas were embedded in the plan.
Kerble is in the process of establishing a Caring and Healing Committee of volunteers, with its kickoff scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 15, 4 p.m., in the Higgins Middle School cafeteria. The meeting should last no more than 75 minutes.
"I need help to do it," Kerble said of what he wants to accomplish. "And I need the community to help me."
He's looking for volunteer businesses that could provide lunches for staff once a week for six weeks. He's also looking for volunteers from the PTO, at least one teacher from every school, and others who could work on various subcommittees. His wife, Joan Kerble, who also attended Peabody schools growing up, will be the liaison.
Eventually, Kerble envisions creating a healing garden with seats engraved with the names of those who died "with room to grow." He's hoping to work with the City Council on finding a location to create a place to reflect, similar to the Fire and Police Memorial across from Emerson Park.
He'd also like to run weekly self-care activities, such as yoga or mindfulness classes for teachers after-school. He'd like every school to have a designated "quiet room" for reflection.
He plans to work with Kristin Kowalski, Care Dimensions' school and community outreach specialist, to hold healing conversations with staff, in conjunction with Care Dimensions' school-based grief outreach program funded by the Bertolon family of Beverly.
The six-month initiative will culminate with a healing event at the Higgins Middle School in May featuring religious leaders and the Peabody high chorale, among others.
"So far, everybody's on board," Kerble said.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt said he applauded the initiative.
"It has been a very difficult few months as we all try to cope with the tremendous loss our community has suffered," Bettencourt said. "It is important that we continue to love and support one another beyond the initial grieving period and to focus on recovery and well-being in the long-term.”
School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne called the committee a "wonderful" idea.
"Everyone is dealing with their own private loses, and they have this shared public loss," she said. "It can really magnify the sad feelings and for some people it can be a lot of despair."
Kerble sees two paths for the schools in the weeks and months ahead: healing the community and moving the district forward when it comes to educating students.
"At the end of the day, that's all that matters. It's all anybody cares about are the kids," Kerble said, "but we have to take care of the staff, too."
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.