Peabody school chief rates herself 'proficient'

JAIME CAMPOS/Staff file photoPeabody schools Superintendent Cara Murtagh on Tuesday presented her self-evaluation of her job performance to the School Committee. 

PEABODY — Cara Murtagh viewed her job performance as mostly "proficient" in her rookie year guiding Peabody Public Schools.  

In a review of Murtagh's self-evaluation Tuesday, the School Committee generally agreed with Murtagh's assessment, with one exception: members voted her the top grade of "exemplary" in community engagement, overruling her own "proficient" rating. 

"A great leader has to be visible," said School Committee member Joseph Amico, "and a great leader has to be accessible, and you are both. You are probably the hardest working employee in the city and a lot of that goes to your reaching out to families and the students all year long so I just want to thank you for that."

The School Committee reviewed Murtagh's job performance evaluation in open session during its regular meeting in the Higgins Middle School library, which was broadcast by Peabody TV.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, the committee's chairman, said he plans to meet with Murtagh, factor in the school board's votes and comments, and prepare a final written summary for the committee to review, which will eventually go into Murtagh's personnel file.

"I think you have done a terrific job this year, your first year," said Bettencourt. "You were hit with a wide variety of very challenging budget items, situations, challenges and you rose to the occasion and I think even better years are ahead for you."

In an email on Thursday, Murtagh said the committee has been very supportive, and she is looking forward to a positive and productive school year. 

"I could not possibly do my job without the collaboration and support of the mayor, School Committee, my incredible leadership team," which includes the assistant superintendent, director of special education, director of human resources and business manager. She also thanked her secretaries, teachers and families.

There were a couple of areas in which Murtagh graded herself as needing improvement: "cultural proficiency" and "shared vision," the latter dealing with students' life outside school and after they graduate.

The process

Bettencourt said Murtagh reviewed herself on four standards — "instructional leadership," "management and operations," "family and community engagement," and "professional culture" — and the School Committee voted to agree or disagree with her job assessment.

Each standard was broken down into several subgroups. Each subgroup was then ranked "unsatisfactory," "needs improvement," "proficient" or "exemplary."

On the first standard of "instructional leadership" under "curriculum instruction," Bettencourt said Murtagh gave herself a "proficient" mark, which carried through much of the evaluation.

School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne agreed, noting Murtagh's background as a previous assistant superintendent and principal of the Carroll and Center schools, as well as her weekly visits with school administrators.

"I think it has been a very good thing to do because it shows a real true focus and a very good organization on making sure this is being carried out on a weekly basis, and it's gone on all year," Dunne said of the visits, which Murtagh has dubbed "Walk through Wednesdays." 

Under the "instruction," "assessment," "evaluation," and "data informed decision making" indicators, the school board voted unanimously to agree with Murtagh's "proficient" rating.

Under the second standard, "management and operations," Murtagh rated herself "proficient" and the School Committee agreed unanimously with her on the schools' environment, human resources management, scheduling and management information systems, law, ethics and policy; and fiscal systems, which deals with the school budget.

Under the third standard, "family and community engagement," Murtagh rated her performance as "proficient" on "sharing responsibility," "communications," and "family concerns and support," and the School Committee agreed.

On the last standard that dealt with the schools' professional culture, the committee also voted to agree with Murtagh's "proficient" rating for "commitment to high standards," "communications," "continuous learning," and "managing conflict."

Under "cultural proficiency," Murtagh rated herself "needs improvement," and the committee agreed.

"I think it is just because this is something that I know you are working toward trying to get a more diverse staff into this district and that takes a lot of time and a lot of energy to do that," Dunne said. "It's nothing anyone could do overnight."

Murtagh also gave herself a "needs improvement" grade on "shared vision," which deals with developing a vision focused on students' preparation for college, career readiness, civic engagement and community contributions.

Dunne said this area was a "work in progress," and the committee agreed.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. 

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