Florida Native Takes Helm of Cambridge School District

* D'Alessandro urges change, plan for middle school

Flowers are piling up at the Harrington School as Cambridge School district mourns the death of ten-year-old Jeffrey Curley, and among the mourners gathered to light candles and link arms, none is more conscious of the call to action this recent tragedy has issued than Bobbie D'Alessandro.

"I received my doctorate in counseling, so I'm here to offer comfort to parents, students and teachers affected by this," she said in a brief interview before the Cambridge School Committee meeting last night.

D'Alessandro assumed the helm of the Cambridge School District as superintendent Oct. 1, replacing interim superintendent Patrick Murphy, and bringing to an end a summer search process that divided the Cambridge school committee, parents and school staff.

Murphy became interim superintendent after Mary Lou McGrath resigned this summer, deciding not to renew her contract in June after serving for nine years.

Both D'Alessandro--an import from Ft. Myers, Fla.--and Murphy, who were both candidates for the vacated post, stood watch together at the Harrington School early this week, comforting parents, students and teachers and promising change.

"We're a real team," Murphy said last night, gesturing to D'Alessandro.

"Patrick and I have a common belief system," D'Alessandro added, "We both believe in focusing on the individual child."

The Search

The superintendent search process consisted of an 11-member search committee chaired by school committee member David P. Maher and composed of committee members, parents and district staff.

The final four candidates selected by the search team were D'Alessandro; Murphy; Arlene Ackerman, the deputy superintendent in Seattle, who dropped out of the race in August to accept another position; and Marya Levenson, superintendent of the North Colonie Schools in upstate New York.

School Committee member Joe Grassi said visits to the candidates' home districts helped him decide whether each had developed the skills needed to work with key problems in the Cambridge schools.

"The basic premise was finding a way for the school system to address the needs of students that are achieving at the low end of the spectrum," Grassi said.

"She [D'Alessandro] had really worked to design a strategic plan that redirected budget resources and helped the [Ft. Myers] community."

Parents raised protests early in the search process, alleging that Murphy was the early favorite because of his Cambridge background.

"Let's be honest--he was the only in-house candidate and there were many people who wanted anything but an in-house candidate," Maher said.