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Murphy Removed as Morristown High Principal

Accepts position as director of human resources and community engagement after five-hour Board of Education meeting Monday; hundreds in attendance ask why.

The line of people waiting to give former Principal Linda Murphy hugs and wish her well seemed like it would never end. 

As tears were shed, the scene felt like a funeral procession. In a way, it was.

The Board of Education was expected to reassign Murphy, the high school principal for seven years and a fixture as a math teacher and vice principal in the district for decades, to be the new principal of Lafayette Learning Center, a preschool.

However, Murphy announced she plans to retire at the end of the 2012-13 school year and was instead appointed as the district's director of human resources and community engagement.

As Monday night moved into Tuesday morning, with the clock at about 12:30 a.m., the Board of Education meeting finally ended after beginning five hours earlier.

Through word-of-mouth, and the power of social media, hundreds of friends, family and co-workers from the school district, area churches and beyond, turned out to that same building (which also serves as the Morris School District's main offices) to protest the decision and to find out just why it was happening.

In the end, Murphy–who also graduated from Morristown High School–would not be reassigned to the preschool, following a three-and-a-half hour closed session between her, her lawyers and the district. 

"As my career reaches the next stage it is with great enthusiasm that I have accepted the position of 'Director of Human Resources and Community Engagement,'" Murphy said to the audience in a prepared statement, shortly before 11 p.m. "This is a role that will allow me to help make the schools in the district a place where all children can succeed in an environment where they are treated with dignity, respect and tolerance."

Superintendent Thomas Ficarra also read a prepared statement. "We want to thank Linda Murphy for her leadership at Morristown High School. I recruited Linda seven years ago. I did so because of her natural ability to bring people together and to engage the community. In Linda's seven years as the principal at Morristown High School, she has been instrumental in improving the culture and learning environment of the school."

As a result of that, Ficarra said in his prepared statement, he had asked Murphy to accept a transfer as principal to the preschool.

"However, Ms. Murphy then advised me that she had intended to retire as of June 30, 2013," Ficarra continued. "I would never want to put someone in as principal who was leaving in a year ... it would be in the best interest of the district if we asked Linda to apply her talents across the school district."

Murphy, in her prepared statement, said the role of "Director of Human Resources and Community Engagement" would "allow me to help make the schools in the District a place where all children can succeed in an environment where they are treated with dignity, respect and tolerance."

Although not what some had considered the demotion they had come to the meeting originally for, many still reacted to Ficarra and the BOE negatively.

"I do not accept the solution that you arrived at tonight," Morris Plains resident Charles Lamb said. "Why is she [being] removed? What I heard tonight were all comments as to why she should remain as principal." 

"I've known Linda Murphy since the early 70s, as a student, a colleague and as a teacher," said Joanne Belmonte, who taught in the District for 40 years, until 2008. "I'm just confused here. I just don't understand why we can't let Linda finish out her year if she wants to retire in 2013."

Belmonte described a scenario over several years, where each graduating class had a different prinicipal. "I just remember the turmoil before [her] seven years," she said.

"It's a slap in the face," said Samantha Watson, a Morristown resident. "It's political. When a decision is made in an abrupt way, there has to be an agenda. It could have been handled differently."

Kim Pistner, a Morristown resident and active parent in the school district, called Murphy "a great force for Morristown High School.

"I feel sad tonight," she said. "I feel sad because I feel there was probably a better way to do this."

Was there?

"I don't think it could have been done differently," Board of Education President Nancy Bangiola said after the five-hour meeting. "Yes, it was a difficult decision. There were a lot of things to weigh."

Among those things was not, she wanted to make clear, anything involving . His death, in his Morris Township home on March 28, .

Former Principal Ethel Minchello has been assigned as high school principal on an interim basis, at a salary of $153,822. Bangiola said the district would engage members of the school district, community and more before hiring the next full-time principal at the high school.

"It's going to take some time," she said.

Meanwhile, outside the meeting room, a few remaining audience members spoke with Murphy. Some of them wiped away tears.

"You deserve so much better," one person said as they embraced.

Karol Corbin Walker, one of Murphy's attorneys, said her client would not be making any additional statements.

Asked, however, how she felt after receiving all of the support on her behalf, Murphy, not crying but with noticeably reddened eyes, said, "I can't make a comment tonight," and left the building.

[Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Joanne Belmonte's name as Sharon Morgan.]

Janet Blanchard June 26, 2012 at 02:54 PM
And we still have no reason why, right? But we know. Like your God will say, "well done my good and faithful servant" May God continue to bless and keep you. Good luck on your next endeavor.
Cara DePalma June 26, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Mrs. Murphy was a true leader and a passionate advocate for her students. She will be sorely missed.
Kathy Shaskan June 26, 2012 at 02:56 PM
I'm so very sad to hear this. Linda was made principal while my daughter was at the high school and I was so happy to see a former MHS student at the helm. Her love for the place showed in everything she did.
Sue June 26, 2012 at 04:38 PM
"There were a lot of things to weigh." They deny it has anything to do with Lennon Baldwin. But why won't they say what those things were they had to weigh? Will we ever find out?
katty June 26, 2012 at 05:14 PM
I'm really sad to hear this. She was a great influence for the teens in High School. I was hoping to see her in my senior year but i think i won't....
Cara DePalma June 26, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I though the same thing, Sue. It would be a shame if they made her the "fall guy."
Janis Murphy June 27, 2012 at 02:38 AM
It's all about the Baldwin case,too bad they can't be up front and honest. Why must someone take the fall for this child's decision to end his own life? Really?? Is this really going to make it all better for this family? I
Moira June 27, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Someone is taking the fall, not for Lennon's suicide, but for the thug life going on under her nose, some of which led to the suicide. Isn't the principal accountable for that? What parent wants to send their child to a school where children get beaten up in the hallways? The Baldwin lawsuit will be an eye-opener, I''m sure, as to some of the crap going on at MHS. She was allowed to leave (or be "reassigned") without the embarassment that usually comes with being fired. The school needs a strong leader. Ethel Minchello is not it. I remember a number of physical altercations at Frelinghuysen during her tenure.
sylvester hughey June 27, 2012 at 12:20 PM
...This deal of being perfect I thought was limited to one Person....and we crucified Him...Syl Hughey
sylvester hughey June 27, 2012 at 12:21 PM
with thanks
Anne June 28, 2012 at 08:14 AM
People are not asking the right questions. They wonder if this had anything to do with Lennon or not. They talk about what a wonderful person and teacher she was. The board was not questioning her character, but her judgement. The board chose to side on judgement. We are all faced with situations wherein we need to make judgements based on situations. Linda Murphy not doubt had one major responsibility and that was to keep our students safe. She was given specific guidelines to follow in the event of violence on campus. She didn't follow procedure. Procedures are in place to prevent escalating events. The school is requires parents & students to follow procedure, they need to do the same. Fact of the matter is.. She failed to follow specific guidelines and procedure when a students safety was concerned. She used "her judgement" rather than procedure. She had the power to nip bullying in the bud and she did not. Only Linda Murphy knows why she didn't respond in a timely manner. So only she can answer this question. But "taking on a new career position" prior to her retirement next year. With a comfortable retirement on our dime I might add is still better off than dead. Dontcha' think?
Cara DePalma June 28, 2012 at 02:26 PM
After the severe cuts in staff that took place in 2009, you can not manage 1400+ students without additional staff like aides and paraprofessionals.They are the "boots on the ground" staff workinmg with the toughest kids. Mrs. Murphy always did her best to work with parents and students, but it has to work both ways.
Terry June 30, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Even more curious to me than Ms. Murphy's reassignment is why the administration said nothing to the parent and student body after it was finally revealed that Lennon had been attacked at school. It was completely swept under the rug, no mention, only what we ready in the newspaper finally. If NJ has the toughest anti-bullying laws, then why was nothing ever said? It should have been a time for the students and administration to come together and discuss the tragedy on all fronts--a student ending his life and other students bullying. No names had to be mentioned, just a discussion of what the community should learn from all of this.
Moira July 01, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Not only was there no mention of it, but (as reported here) students at Lennon's funeral said they were told not to discuss the incident with the press or others. Sounds like consciousness of wrongdoing to me.

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