Friday, July 19, 2024

David Murphy speaks to the Cambridge School Committee on April 2 as chief operating officer of Cambridge Public Schools. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The chief operating officer of Cambridge Public Schools, David Murphy, was named Tuesday to become interim superintendent, stepping in for the departing Victoria Greer starting July 1.

His term is to last anywhere from 90 days to up to a year, based on approval by the four School Committee members present at a virtual special meeting held Tuesday and by Mayor E. Denise Simmons, who leads the committee.

Murphy was prepared to step up, Simmons said, citing phone calls with him. Contract negotiations would follow immediately.

In the process first described by Simmons, there would be three steps to replace Greer: a short-term interim superintendent in place for as little as a month or as many as three “who can provide us with the necessary working space to find a long-term interim superintendent,” then that long-term interim leader to run things so the committee can “take stock of what we truly want from the next superintendent.” Finally the committee would appoint a permanent superintendent; they tend to get three- to four-year contracts in Cambridge.

There was pushback from committee members to the plan from Simmons and committee vice chair Caroline Hunter in consultation with Carolyn Turk, who was the district’s longtime deputy superintendent before retiring to become Simmons’ education liaison.

“There’s something about the number of transitions,” member Rachel Weinstein said. “If we go from Dr. Greer to an acting or an interim, and then another acting or interim and then another permanent, I do want to think about what that means for continuity and leadership.”

Advocating for predictability

Though appointed staff will continue to do much of the work implementing policies, the series of transitions raised the possibility that there would be delays or game-playing to wait for a leader to leave or arrive. If “a big decision has to be made, but this person is going to be out the door in 15 days, you can wait that out,” member Richard Harding said.

Member Elizabeth Hudson agreed. “You don’t know to whom to be advocating,” she said, pointing to another concern of the three-step process: “Will we be in a position where we’re hiring for an interim and hiring for a permanent superintendent at the same time? Do we have the capacity to do that?”

The members proposed that instead of a 30- to 90-day window, the language for Murphy’s hiring was to be for “up to a year,” though Simmons and Hunter said they hadn’t meant to exclude the possibility of an extension.

If the position worked out, Murphy should also be able to apply for the permanent role, Harding said.

No deputy superintendent to turn to

Greer, who was asked to resign by a 5-2 vote of the committee May 29, recommended Murphy to replace her as part of an immediate transition plan.

“In the absence of a deputy, there is no one [else] to appoint,” Simmons said, referring to a district executive office flowchart.

Turk retired in October after serving as deputy superintendent for 21 years, capping 46 years in the district. She served as interim superintendent twice, including after Thomas Fowler-Finn left in 2008. Greer decided to retire the position of deputy superintendent in honor of Turk.

Murphy, as interim leader, will help decide how to fill his own role overseeing day-to-day operations of the district, with it possibly being pieced together from Turk called a “robust” executive staff. The committee should not replace him as chief operating officer if he might return to that role after a few months, Harding pointed out.

Next steps in the process

Work to find longer-term term leaders will take place during the school break. “We can make an assumption that we’re going to spend a lot of time together this summer,” Hunter said. But it’s considering an unusual time to undertake a search, as most good candidates will be gearing up to start the next school year and won’t be looking for work.

The search for a first interim leader appeared to take place on a somewhat ad hoc basis, though negotiations for Greer’s exit were ongoing for around two months; Hunter and Simmons took pains Tuesday to clarify to the other members that the rest of the search process would include them.

Though they did the work to present Murphy as an option, he was brought to the full membership on such a short-term basis because “we did not want to lock the School Committee into a long-term decision, not having engaged the committee in the conversation,” Simmons said. “We do see this as a group effort … I felt a real implication that we will try and run the show.”

An experienced administrator

Murphy joined Cambridge Public Schools on Jan. 23, 2023, from a role as assistant superintendent of finance and operations for Medford Public Schools. According to a CPS biography, he previously served in leadership positions with Boston Public Schools, including as chief of staff and deputy superintendent, and before that was chair of the Attleboro School Committee and served as outside legal counsel to several Massachusetts school districts. He has a Bachelor of Arts from Fordham University and a degree from Boston College Law School.

Under Greer, he helped set policies, procedures and practices around the organizational health and management of the district and oversaw and supported facilities management, food services, safety and security, student registration and the transportation department.

“It will be an honor to serve as interim superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools. CPS has a long-standing reputation for excellence and I am deeply committed to continuing to advance the district’s mission. I look forward to working collaboratively with our School Committee, educators, families and community partners to advance the interests of all CPS students,” Murphy said in a press release sent Wednesday via the district’s spokesperson.

The district has a budget of $268.3 million, according to the most recent submitted budget. The district’s schools include a dozen elementary schools, four upper schools and one high school. The projected enrollment for the next academic year is 7,144 students.