Herb Levine, interim superintendent of Peabody Public Schools, stands outside the new Higgins Middle School, which opened this fall. | Photo: Reba Saldanha
By Cyrus Moulton
He retired in 2005 after more than three decades in education, culminating as superintendent of Salem Public Schools, where he built four schools and rehabilitated the high school. Then he retired again. And again, and…
“I guess I’ve retired three times,” said Herb Levine, now interim superintendent of Peabody Public Schools. “I like the work, like the people; I’ve been an educator since I was 21.” Levine, 69, is a familiar face in school districts in eastern Massachusetts after a long career in education. He started as a classroom teacher in his hometown of Revere in 1969. In 1976, he was hired by Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., to be the dean of students in South Boston High School, as part of the judge’s order to desegregate Boston schools through busing.
“As bad as things were at SBHS, I thought that if I went there and failed, people would say, ‘well nobody could have succeeded,’” Levine said. “If I went through and succeeded though, people would say I was really something.”
Levine said he did succeed and learned the valuable lesson that being the “champion of the underdog” was “the right thing to do,” especially when he felt so fortunate.
Levine said he had a “Leave it to Beaver” kind of childhood with “everything you could ask for.”
“So many kids don’t have that advantage. Even many of the kids who do well,” Levine said. “I do spend a good deal of time trying to level the playing field for kids who don’t have the advantages that some of us have—books in the home, parents reading to them.”
After South Boston, Levine went to a school district in southern New Hampshire—Timberlane Regional—where he served as a principal beginning in 1988. He returned to Massachusetts to be principal at Chelmsford High School from 1992 to 1996, then deputy superintendent in Wakefield from 1996 to 1998. He was superintendent in Salem from 1998 to 2005, a time of which he was particularly proud. “We had great accomplishments for a city that had, at that time, a very large Spanish population that struggled with English as a second language,” Levine said, noting five major school projects, expanded and expedited opportunities for dual-language learning, and MCAS scores that improved district-wide each year.
Then Levine retired for the first time. But he said he “became fidgety” and went to interim superintendencies in Blackstone/ Millville Regional School District in 2007-2008, then to Peabody in 2011-2012. After his then third retirement, he accepted a position as the community liaison for the committee to build the new Higgins Middle School. The city asked him to return for a year as interim superintendent in 2015-2016, and then to stay on another year. So this year, he got to be superintendent as the new Higgins opened for students.
“I’ve been very lucky in my career, throughout my career, wherever I’ve been to work with incredible people,” Levine said. “Most of all, I enjoy the superintendency because I can help people. I’m in a position where I can make somebody’s life better, more productive, whether helping a student or hiring somebody to be a great classroom teacher. Ultimately the job of superintendent is to be the prime advocate of kids.”
And helping kids seems to have made his life better and more productive. Just witness his retirement success.
“I’m just not a guy who can sit around,” Levine said. “You can only golf so many times per week. In winter,
I can’t sit around and do nothing. And this is what I know, this is what I love.”