Former Schools Superintendent Robert S. Peterkin will return to Cambridge in July to head a Harvard program which trains students to head school systems in urban areas, University officials announced earlier this month.
Peterkin, who left his Cambridge post in 1988 to take the helm of the public school system in Milwaukee, Wisc., has been named the new director of the Urban Superintendents Program, a three-year doctoral program at the Graduate School of Education that certifies graduates to work as school superintendants in Massachusetts and several other states.
University officials described the one-of-a-kind program as means of strengthening public education at a time of at a time of crisis for many urban schools.
"I can think of no one more qualified to lead this important new initiative than Bob Peterkin," Education School Dean Patricia Graham said in a prepared statement. "He's an experienced professional who understands the complex combination of political, moral, social and fiscal expectations which have become centered in the office of the superintendent of schools."
Several Cambridge officials who had the opportunity to work with Peterkin in his days as superintendent said that they were looking forward to his return.
"We're very pleased at having Dr. Peterkin back in Cambridge," said Mary Lou McGrath, the current superintendent. "We believe that's an excellent move for Harvard, Dr. Peterkin, and Cambridge," she said of the appointment.
"I'm sure he'll give it a good effort," said Frances H. Cooper, a member of the School Committee. Cooper has served on the committee since 1984, when Peterkin was hired as superintendent.
"I thought he was a person who worked hard and got some things done. I welcome him in the new job," she said.
Former Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci said that he and Peterkin had not worked together closely, but that his sense was that the former superintendant is a "good guy."
But in his new job, Peterkin will have to grapple with a series of thorny problems now plaguing schools in Cambridge and other urban areas, Vellucci said.
"What is he going to do about the dropout problem in Cambridge?" he said. "That's the most wicked problem. These kids here need help."