By Christopher Roberson
Going into the second half of the 2018-2019 academic year, Superintendent of Schools Cara Murtagh recently presented her top four goals to the School Committee.
She said her first goal is to provide support to achieve “excellence in teaching and learning.”
Murtagh said the administration at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School will be working on a self-study, to be completed in May, in preparation for the school’s accreditation process under the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. She also said high school students will become well versed in the “Vision of the Graduate.”
Murtagh said vocabulary development will be a key objective at Higgins Middle School in an effort to bolster the school’s English/Language Arts scores. According to the most recent results from the Next Generation MCAS, middle school students received none of the four available points in English/Language Arts. She also said small group math instruction will continue on the elementary level.
In addition, Murtagh assured the committee that she does not spend a lot of time in the Central Office. “One thing, as superintendent I’m very, very visible in the schools,” she said during the Dec. 11 meeting. “That is my passion and my love so I will be there on a regular basis.”
Murtagh’s second goal is focused on management and operations. “This is a huge one for us,” she said.
Using Aspen software, Murtagh said, a new student management system will be implemented for students in grades 6-12 to monitor their progress in real time. In addition to having online attendance by February for students in grades K-5, Murtagh said, she also intends to have online report cards available for those grade levels starting in September.
Her third goal will be continuing to enhance two-way communication between home and the classroom.
Murtagh’s final goal is focused on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and chronic absenteeism. She said a new SEL curriculum will be introduced in all the schools and each building will have its own SEL team.
“We have to get behaviors under control before learning even starts happening,” said Murtagh.
She also said chronic absenteeism continues to be a “major, major issue” across the district, adding that currently eight percent of Peabody’s students routinely miss school. Going forward, Murtagh said, she and her colleagues will work to reduce that number to five percent.
School Committee Member Joseph Amico said he appreciates the focus on SEL. “I applaud you for putting that in your goals,” he told Murtagh.
School Committee Member Jarrod Hochman said he is impressed with Murtagh’s ambition. “These are lofty goals, this is a big vision,” he said.
Project 351 Ambassadors
In other news, Murtagh said eighth grade students Michaela Alperen and Carson Browne have been selected as 2019 ambassadors for Project 351. Alperen and Browne both serve on the Student Advisory Board and are candidates for the Junior National Honor Society. Their service to Project 351 will begin with a Launch Day next month in Boston.
Project 351 was started in 2011 by then-Governor Deval Patrick and, according to the organization’s website, strives to “meet the demand for high quality, enriching service opportunities that respect and reflect the unique gifts and world changing aspirations of young people.”