By Calvin Hennick, Globe Correspondent
CAMBRIDGE — In a meeting that featured heated comments about race and a split vote by School Committee members, Jeffrey Young was named the new superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools on Tuesday night.
Young, 56, Newton’s superintendent, will try to move toward the school system’s stated goal of closing the achievement gap between white students and students of color. But the selection process seemed to cause a rift between community members, with many white residents at a pre-vote public forum speaking in favor of Young, who is white, and many black residents supporting Cambridge’s interim superintendent Carolyn Turk, who is black.
‘‘I think that we have to now come together as a school committee,’’ said board member Alfred B. Fantini, who along with Mayor E. Denise Simmons backed Turk. ‘‘We have to support Dr. Young.’’
Simmons, though, voted ‘‘present’’ when Fantini asked for a second vote to make the board’s decision unanimous. The original vote was 5-2 and the second was 6-0 with one present.
‘‘The record will show how I voted,’’ Simmons said when asked to explain her vote. ‘‘Carolyn Turk is an extraordinary woman. I think Cambridge has lost a great opportunity.’’
Young is in the second year of a three-year contract in Newton, where he earned $247,870 last year.
He has overseen high levels of student achievement there and previously served as superintendent in Lexington and Lynnfield, but he lacks experience in a district with the diversity of Cambridge.
The city’s school population for 2008-09 was 36 percent white, 34.6 pecent black, 14.1 percent Hispanic, 11.3 Asian, and 3.3 percent multiracial.
‘‘The professional challenge for me is spreading my wings,’’ Young said. ‘‘That’s what excites me. That’s what makes me passionate about coming to a place like this.’’
Cambridge’s advertised school superintendent position listed a salary of about $200,000 plus benefits.
Some of Turk’s supporters portrayed Young as an outsider without a vested interest in the community, while many of Young’s supporters said his detractors were ignoring his record of success in other districts.
‘‘It is unfortunate that the process did not put more weight on the candidate who is a vested accomplished member of the community,’’ said Kathy Reddick, the president of the Cambridge branch of the NAACP and a Turk supporter.
‘‘To push ahead someone who has served several school committees in different towns but who is not truly vested in any of them makes me wonder if this is just another job and a paycheck, benefits, and pension.’’
But Angela Hofmann, a multiracial woman whose son will attend high school in Cambridge next year, saw Young as better qualified.
‘‘It shouldn’t be about race,’’ Hofmann said. ‘‘It should be about experience.’’
Others in the mixed-race crowd of 100 last night argued that Turk had the necessary experience.
‘‘Dr. Turk should be our superintendent because she is the best qualified,’’ said Jeffrey Brown, minister at Union Baptist Church in Central Square.
‘‘There are some folks who feel that that might be a little too much color.’’
School Committee member Patricia M. Nolan objected to the idea that race was a factor in the choice.
‘‘We’re in a post-Obama era,’’ she said, referring to the president. ‘‘And to say that people in Cambridge would be in favor of a candidate because of [race] does not reflect the Cambridge that I know.’’
Young succeeds Thomas Fowler-Finn, who retired in February.