About a week ago we had an interview with our amazing superintendent, Ms. Murtagh, and we asked her some questions on how her first year as superintendent was. The following is the transcript of the interview.
1. What was the hardest thing that happened this year?
I think one of the most challenging things is always calling off school for weather. It was probably one of the easiest years because we only had one snow day. That is a challenge because you don't know. I felt like I was a little bit like a meteorologist this year during the winter months, so that was a challenge. We got through it with only one snow day, so it was a success and you guys are getting out the earliest, I think, you’ve ever gotten out in years. It’s tricky because I was always up looking out the window. That was a challenge because I wasn’t used to it, but it was good. I love each day in my position because I don't know. I know my regular meetings that may happen, but from day to day something comes up that we don’t know is going to happen. For instance, we didn’t know there was going to be a water main break at the Welch School a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t a challenge. Peabody Public Schools is such a wonderful community that it brought the community even closer together. It brought all of the elementary school students to the high school and it wasn’t actually a challenge, it was more of a community event. Day to day my job is very exciting because you don’t know, but my ultimate goal is to make sure you guys have what you need, teachers have what they need, that you guys are always safe, and that you’re being educated well. That’s my job. Love it. Really excited. I think we really had a great year. A lot happened. I think I have been to an event every single night since February. There’s always something happening. Students are always involved in everything and it’s so fun.
2. What was the easiest thing that happened this year?
I think the smoothest part of my transition into being superintendent was getting to know the students and building relationships. I think that it’s the smoothest part of my transition because I know a lot of people and I know a lot of the middle school and high school students, but I’m getting to know the elementary school students now because I had some of you throughout the years. I think that has made the smoothest part of my transition into superintendency. The families, too. I know a lot of the families which is so great. People stop by my office all the time and it’s great.
3. What was your best memory from this year?
I think my best memory was “Walk Through Wednesdays.” I made sure on my calendar Wednesdays were the days that I visited schools and I love Wednesdays. I was in schools all day long visiting with students and teachers, so “Walk Through Wednesdays” were really, really fun for me. I want to continue that next year but I want do like “Walk Through Wednesday,” “Fly Through Thursday,” or something. I want to go through the schools more and get out into the schools more than just one full day.
4. Did you grow up in Peabody?
I did. Born and raised. And still live here.
5. What kept you here?
In all honesty, the community. Peabody’s a wonderful community where I was born and raised. I just love the people here. It’s a great place to grow up in and it’s a great place to be an adult in as well.
6. Did anything happen which you didn’t expect besides what happened at the Welch School?
The biggest thing was the water main break and we moved the students, but other than that, we took care of it. Everybody is extremely professional. Safety is my number one job before educating you to make sure you guys are all safe. That was the biggest one. It was so quick and they just called me like “Cara, we have no water. There is a water main break.” Well, we have to move everybody, so within 15 minutes, we moved 400 students. It was wonderful. We did it so seamlessly. The kids were excited and the high school kids were wonderful. The team at the Welch was preparing the students to get on the bus and the team at the high school was preparing to get the students off the bus and planning activities for them once they got there. It was seamless. The Welch School children told me it was their best field trip ever. It was just awesome. I think that was the biggest, biggest one. Day to day we handle situations professionally and seamlessly.
7. What are your plans for next year?
I’m really excited because I’m rolling out what’s called a Strategic Plan, like what our vision is and like the Vision of the Graduate. I would like to have a public relations team to be able to say this is happening, this is happening, because there's so many great things that we need to get out so people will know that are happening. Like for instance, if somebody was on the public relations team, they would say tonight, guess what. Yes, it is on our website that there is the graduations and things, but we could make brochures, we could make signs, we could really publicize it, congratulate the success of the students, and things like that. So I will be putting together a team. Our motto in our district with the whole leadership team is “Every Student, Every Day,” so it is so important that you get what you need in your comprehensive education. That will be a continuation from this year.
8. If you could come back as a high school student, what things would you change from your high school career?
I love that question! One thing I never had as a student was I didn’t have to public speak. I never had to get up in front of anybody, and it still is a fear of mine, so I would definitely take a public speaking course. I know it is part of your standards now because we have such rigorous learning standards and that you have to present quite a bit. One of the biggest things that I talk to students about all the time is modeling things and being able to say “Okay, why don’t you try it. If you’re uncomfortable with it, I’ll show you.” Maybe even have a class like that for somebody uncomfortable about public speaking. Maybe be able to have peer tutors to be able to help you from somebody who is extremely confident in that. Same thing with the sciences. If science is not your strongest course, maybe you have a peer tutor or a peer model that will help you in science or math. So I think I would do that. Public speaking has always been a fear of mine, but I am trying to conquer that because I public speak a lot now, but I didn’t have that as a student. You guys do now, though. You are articulate and you’re confident, and continue to have that. Continue to use those great skills. I think having the experiences that we are putting into place now will continue those. For instance, this year I signed a contract with Cataldo so the students who were in Medical Assisting could go out live on an ambulance and really get real life experiences if that’s the field they want to go into. I also went to Lahey Clinic this year with Medical Assisting to see what they do. They got hands on experience. I would like to speak to more of you next year at the beginning of the school year and be able to see what else you would like and to see if we could make it happen. Sometimes we can’t make it happen right away, but we are always looking for new innovative ideas for great learning experiences. We have to figure out your path. Do you want to go to college? Do you want to go into a career? You have to figure out your path and your learning path, and that’s what we’re here for, to help you and guide you in the direction you want to go.
9. What is a typical day or week like?
it is very, very busy, always, which is awesome. Multitasking is very important in this job. Colleagues say “how many hats are you wearing today?” You have to have great organizational skills. I am in meetings. Today, I probably already had ten meetings. I start my day at 7:00 AM and depending on the day, between 7:00-9:00 PM I will be done. But it's great because like last night I went to the concert and the guidance [presentation]. Tonight I have the two graduations, the retiree [event], and then the school committee meeting, so I will be home probably around 9:00 or 9:30. Tomorrow night I have a couple fun student events to go to. Thursday night is meeting night. So it all depends, but it’s great. It is always super busy from the time I get in until the time I leave. Sometimes I look at the clock and I can’t believe how fast it goes. It is always student driven and making the best decisions for the interest of students.
10. What are your plans for the future of Peabody High’s Performing Arts Department?
It is a very strong program and it will continue to be. I actually meet with Mr. Simmons and his team on a regular basis. We will continue to see what the students want to do and how to continue a very successful program. It continues to thrive every single school year.
You guys are the best. I thank you for taking my phone call today and being able to do a conference call. I wish I was sitting in front of you. I am so proud of all of you and I am so glad that you are on The Tanner Times. Have a wonderful summer, always be safe, and we will talk soon. Tell your families I said hello.