LIVINGSTON – When Joe Murphy talks about a school system, it is not the classes or programs he wants to talk about – he talks about the people.
“We have some great people and they want to make things better,” said Murphy, assistant superintendent of the Livingston Parish school system seeking the top job in the system.
“We can learn from the educators in our system; our educators have so much to offer. We have to listen to our people and trust our people,” he said.
Murphy is one of five applicants for the superintendent’s job. He is scheduled to be interviewed at 7:15 p.m. Monday, April 15, at the Central Office in Livingston.
“We have a history of success and we need to continue our investment in the education of our students,” to make a good school system better, he said.
Murphy has worked in the Livingston Parish school system since July 1992.
He lists his positions as teacher, coach, administrative assistant, assistant principal, principal, supervisor of instruction, substitute assistant superintendent, and since March 2015, as an assistant superintendent.
“Along the way I have had the distinct pleasure of serving under six superintendents,” Murphy said in his cover letter.
“Placing a premium on relationships, trust, communications, faith in mankind, and most of all faith in our God have served as cornerstones in my personal and professional life.”
Murphy holds a bachelor’s degree in education – secondary social studies from LSU and a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from the University of Southern Mississippi.
“We have a diverse population in Livingston Parish,” Murphy said. “We need to be attentive to the needs of all our children.
“We have to provide a 21st century education to our children.”
And that means taking advantage of technology.
“Technology has a place with students, to engage them more in learning and that can never be a bad thing,” Murphy said.
“Technology is not going to replace teachers, but technology is the accelerator. For children, technology is essential. If we don’t provide it in a classroom, we do a disservice to our children."
Technology can mean many things – computers, devices or objects – but how it is used to the key, Murphy said.
One example, Murphy said, is the dry-erase walls that allow a teacher or students to write on a classroom’s wall.
This allows more students to “go to the board,” engaging them in a lesson, he said. Students are not limited in working on assignments by the space on blackboards or whiteboards.
Murphy also credited the work of Jody Purvis, supervisor of high school instruction, and Staci Polozola, career/technical education coordinator, with expanding the Career Technology Education (CTE) program.
“They have developed partnerships with entrepreneurial businesses to provide the support to what we see is needed,” Murphy said.
The school system wants students to achieve skill levels, Murphy said, whether that is being prepared for college or the career credentials to join the workforce.
The skill level needed for an associate degree can be as valuable as a (four-year) college degree, he said.
“Business tells us they need (workers) with specific skills and Polozola is providing as many opportunities as we can,” he said.
The Marine Corps Junior ROTC programs at Walker and Denham Springs High is another example of offering students a career path to explore, he added.
The growing focus on STEM (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics) programs is important, Murphy said.
“We’ve got to realize we’re preparing children for skills that do not exist yet. STEM is a huge movement,” he said. “We need to be attentive. We need to diversify our curriculum.”
The school system also can’t ignore the type of programs that help students get a head-start on the path to college, such as Advance Placement classes or dual enrollment, he said.
“When many people think of STEM, they think of college preparatory classes, but it can provide credentials,” for students planning to go into the workforce, Murphy said.
The opening of Northshore Technical Community College’s Walker campus this fall also will provide more opportunities, he said.
Another challenge to the school system is recruiting and retaining qualified teachers.
“Every student deserves a great teacher,” Murphy said, and that means providing instruction for student achievement and having quality teachers in the classroom.
“There is no large number of young adults (majoring) in education,” he said. “Livingston Parish must compete with other school systems for the dwindling number of graduates.”
This means improving on Livingston Parish’s rank of 33rd in teacher pay.
“We need to pay teachers more. They earn every dollar,” Murphy said.
“I think the public appreciates,” how big the school system and what its 3,500 employees do.
“The most precious commodity we have are parents allowing their children to come here to to our schools,” Murphy said.
“The first adult children see every day and the last adult they see from the school system is the bus driver,” he said.
The number of children eating breakfast at schools is growing, and Murphy sees that as a positive point.
“A child who is hungry cannot learn. We take care of that need and it helps prepare the child to learn,” he said.
Murphy began his educational career at Southside Junior High as a teacher, working his rank up the administrative ranks to serve seven years at its principal.
Last fall, at a ceremony at the closed Southside Junior High, to celebrate the coming of a new school, Murphy stated, “I am a Southside Buc. And I will always be a Southside Buc.
“The pride the adults have in our schools, what if we could instill that pride in our students? If we do that, we could easily go from good to great,” Murphy said.