PEABODY — Peabody native Marc Kerble took over as interim superintendent at a sad time for Peabody schools.
When he arrived in January, the city was reeling from the deaths of Higgins Middle School student Jackson Frechette, Superintendent Cara Murtagh and Assistant High School Principal Judie Maniatis last November.
Then the schools shut for the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Someone said to me, you picked the worst year, and I say 'no, I picked the best year,'" said the retired Newburyport superintendent. "No better place to be ... than in the middle of it."
Kerble had a long teaching career in Peabody before serving as curriculum coordinator in Haverhill and assistant superintendent in Winchester. Running Peabody schools had been a dream job he never thought he would do.
"It was always something I wanted to do," said Kerble, who graduated Peabody Veterans Memorial High in 1972. "I didn't think it was going to happen and it happened, unfortunately, because of Cara."
Kerble's goal was to heal the district. He and his wife planned wellness programs for staff, a healing event in May that was canceled, and a Healing Garden at Brooksby Farm, plans for which are still moving forward.
Before the pandemic, Kerble and his team presented plans to spend $1.2 million in new money under the state's Student Opportunities Act. He also presented a 21st Century Learning Department to oversee technology in schools. The latter came in handy as the schools switched to remote learning during the shutdown.
The school budget, which was expected to be in excess of $80 million, wound up about $6 million less, and the cost for custodians shifted onto the city budget to save money.
"So I went from feeling fabulous to becoming the grim reaper," Kerble said. "It was tough."
"Marc came in at an unprecedented time and led us through an unprecedented time in history," said Assistant Superintendent Christopher Lord, who served as the interim high school principal this past school year. Kerble called Lord an "unsung hero" for his work to guide the district in December amid the turmoil.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who is also chairman of the School Committee, said Kerble "worked tirelessly" to transition the schools to a remote learning platform.
"Dr. Kerble was there for his hometown when we needed him and our community is forever grateful,” he said.
When he was a young teacher, Kerble taught at the former Kiley School and the old Higgins Middle School. Before the school buildings shut in March, Kerble said he would go to the schools and see people he had worked with or coached, or children of those he coached.
"In the end, what I really loved about Peabody, I could just be myself," he said.
Councilor-at-large Anne Manning-Martin told the City Council last Thursday Kerble coached her on how to round bases and slide while she was a middle-school student at Higgins.
"You were a great guy, a good teacher and thank you for coming to the city of Peabody, your hometown, helping us out through a very difficult time," Manning-Martin said.
Incoming Superintendent Josh Vadala, the assistant superintendent for Revere Public Schools who lives in Peabody, said he was grateful and fortunate for Kerble's guidance during his transition and their work together on the budget.
"I feel like I'm ready to begin in my official capacity on July 1st in large part due to the guidance I've received from Dr. Kerble," said Vadala, who takes the reins July 1. "I truly appreciate his inclusive nature and unwavering dedication to the people of Peabody."
When asked, Kerble offered Vadala some advice.
"Do you expect to be here for 15 years?" Kerble said. "You can't get it all done in one." He urged Vadala to be a regular guy and to go home at night to be with his family.
"And no one's Cara Murtagh," Kerble said. "Just be Josh Vadala and you'll be all right."