The idea of creating a director of Human Resources and Community Engagement for the Morris School District was already in the hopper even before former Principal Linda Murphy, a year before she already was set to retire, district officials said Wednesday.
"We've been talking about this position for months," Superintendent Thomas Ficarra said, as Murphy sat by his side. "There is an achievement gap, and one of the ways we felt we could help close that achievement gap was to increase parental involvement. Linda started that [at Morristown High School]. ... There also was a gap in our connection as an institution."
To close the gap, between administration, faculty, students and parents, there needed to be a mediary for them all, which Murphy's role as director of Human Resources and Community Engagement accomplishes, Ficarra said. A similar position was held about six years ago but was eventually abandoned due to budget cuts, he said.
Still, it wasn't Murphy's first planned move. Over the course of , attorneys for Murphy and the Morris School District met to discuss the educator's situation, originally a proposed reassignment as principal for the preschool. Hundreds of protestors came out for the meeting in opposition. When Murphy re-emerged hours later, she announced an agreement had been made for her new role.
Sensitivity training is a key aspect of what Murphy will be working with during this, her final year with the school district, she said.
"We were looking for something that didn't highlight the differences. We're all people. Treat people like people, you're just another human being.
"I have tried to live this way in general as best I could," the Morristown High School graduate and former math teacher said. As principal at the high school, Murphy said, "we did it as best we could. But, this is more than schoolwide, it's districtwide. It needs to be part of our culture."
Whether or not the position—at a rate of about $170,000 a year—remains after Murphy retires next year depends on the groundwork laid out this year, Ficarra said. He called this first year of Murphy's new role "a pebble in the pond," and hoped eventually the trained can then become the trainers in successive school years.
While Murphy and the district have not been able to say what happened or why Murphy was reassigned in her expected last year with the Morris School District, she emphasized what she is doing now for 2012-13 is "important work."
"It's hard for a principal to do everything," Murphy said. "And, it's really important for all students to be successful. You need to have someone who is in a position to be the contact person. I think that's really special and important."
As for whether or not she would consider rescinding her announcement of retirement depending on how this year played out, Murphy said, "I'm set [to retire.]"