LIVINGSTON – “I need to be the voice of Livingston Parish public schools.”

Joe Murphy brought up that point to the Livingston Parish School Board during his interview on April 15 for the superintendent’s job. And when schoolchildren return from their Easter break on Monday, April 29, he will have a chance to show it as their new superintendent.

“We have an excellent school system and excellent people in our school system, so I know I can lean on all those people in order for us to get through this transition and it will happen and happen seamlessly,” Murphy said after the board’s decision on April 18 to elevate him from assistant superintendent.

“You know the great thing about that is they won’t have a clue about me,” Murphy said of the students, “because of the great people we have at our schools.

“We’re actually finishing up testing in our schools, so that is a huge priority right now.”

“I need to get out to those schools, and I need to let them see my face as superintendent, so they know who I am and don’t need to worry about me.

“We have great teachers. We have great custodians. We have great bus drivers. All those people support our children,” Murphy said.

It took two votes for the School Board to decide on the successor to retiring Superintendent Rick Wentzel. The vote was done by paper ballot handed out by board President Buddy Mincey Jr., who said each board member had to sign his or her ballot.

It took less than two minutes to make their decisions after spending seven hours interviewing five candidates on April 15. The results were read aloud.

The first vote was four for Murphy, four for Jody Purvis, supervisor of high school curriculum, and one for Bruce Chaffin, human resources supervisor.

Voting for Murphy were: Jan Benton, Bradley Harris, David “Bo” Graham and Mincey. Voting for Purvis were: Brad Sharp, Kellee Hennessey Dickinson, Jeff Cox and Devin Gregoire

Board member Frank Parrino cast the lone vote for Chaffin.

On a motion by Harris, the third-place candidate was removed from consideration. The board approved it 9-0.

On the second ballot, the only change was Parrino casting his vote for Murphy, making it 5-4.

QUOTES FOR MURPHY'S INTERVIEW

• “Leadership is not a position. It is a disposition.”

• “It is never about you; it is always about us.”

• “Do you know what kind of amazing people we have in this parish and amazing things they do very day?”

During the interviews, several applicants talked about what they would do in the first 90 or 100 days.

“We do have a 90-day plan -- I kind of laughed when I interviewed -- my 90-day plan is to survive the first 90 days,” Murphy said. “We’ll take a look at all the avenues that we need to look at immediately.”

Professional development and “three brand-new schools” are two priority item the school system faces, Murphy said.

“We have 1,500 children displaced from their schools,” he said about Denham Springs Elementary, Southside Elementary and Southside Junior High.

Murphy has spent 27 years in the school system, although he came to an educational career later in life. After working in retail management, he went to college at age 31 to become a teacher, he said.

Murphy earned his B.S. in secondary social studies in 1991 from LSU. In 1997, he earned a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from the University of Southern Mississippi.

He began in 1992 as a social studies and reading teacher at Southside Junior High, also coaching basketball and football.

He moved up to administrative assistant in 1996 and in 1997 became assistant principal. Two years later he was named principal at Southside.

Murphy held that position until 2006, when he moved to the Central Office as supervisor of instruction. In 2013, he served as substitute assistant superintendent, moving back to supervisor of instruction in 2014.

In 2015, he became one of two assistant superintendents.

Immediately after the 5-4 vote putting Murphy in charge of 26,000 students, Mincey cast himself in the role of peacemaker, asking the board to unite behind its new superintendent.

“What happened in the past happened in past and doesn’t matter now," Mincey said. “The only thing now is moving forward and we’re relying on your leadership to carry us forward.”

Mincey praised both Purvis and Chaffin, saying they have had “admirable careers and served us in every aspect and we thank you.”

He added the system will need both of them.

“Some people will be disappointed by the outcome, but we have to move forward,” Mincey. “Our school system is more important than any three candidates. We have to find a way to unite behind our next superintendent and make him successful.”

Harris said all of the candidates were “incredible interviews. Y’all all did excellent jobs. I respected y’all before, but more after (the interviews.)”

“You all bring something great to Livingston Parish schools," added Benton. “We couldn’t have better people. I’m glad you all are part of this team.”

“Mr. Murphy, you weren’t my selection, but you are our selection,” said Gregoire, “I am 100 percent behind you.”

MURPHY'S INTERVIEW QUOTES

• “Everyone needs discipline in their lives. Children want to know where the lines are when they know, they will comply 99 percent of the time

• “Every student deserves a great teacher,”

• “We have to provide a 21st century education to our children.”

“We need to teach the whole child. Children are much more than a test score, than a grade,” Murphy said, and it includes the “social, emotion education of these children.”

“We are in a competition for students,” Murphy said. “We better find ways to attract students and keep students in this district.

“In 2018-19, we lost $730,000 for students enrolled in virtual academies.

“We need to expand virtual learning, distance learning, diversified course offerings,” he said, including expanding Advanced Placement courses, dual enrollment and early college courses.

The school system also faces a growing number of students classified as English Language Learners (ELL), students whose first language is not English, he said.

“We recognize this trend,” Murphy said. “We have to serve these children. It doesn’t matter if they speak English or not when they reside here they are our children.”

“Technology has a place with students, to engage them more in learning and that can never be a bad thing,” Murphy said. “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 is not a luxury. It is an expectation now,” Murphy said. “We’ve got be sure to get a great return on our investment and expenditures.

“We can no longer good enough to put a computer on the desk and tell the child to use it,” he said. “We have to put technology in hands of the kids. That is where it is most powerful.”

But Murphy is quick to make one point – “Technology will never ever replace a great teacher.”

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.”

MURPHY'S INTERVIEW QUOTES

• “We need a superintendent who is vocal and respectful, and his voice resonates with the voices at the Capitol.

• “That MFP is the lifeblood of our parish. It’s how we run and operate our schools.

• “Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Murphy said he would join the effort at the State Capitol to convince the Legislature to get Gov. John Bel Edward’s proposed increase in the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) passed.

 “I think absolutely that should be a priority right now,” he said.

“It is the big thing on the public’s mind … and I will certainly do everything I can as our superintendent and in Baton Rouge to support our teachers, not only our teachers but all our employees.”

“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.

“We must invest in our people, we must listen to our people we must give them a voice, have others taken ownerships in that leadership.”

Murphy said it will be his role “to inspire others to be something more than they thought they could be. Those individuals make me better than I ever thought I could even be.”

“We’ve got to listen to them, and they’ve got to buy in and we will go from a very good district to a great district.”

Last fall, at a ceremony at the closed Southside Junior High, to celebrate the coming of a new school, Murphy commented on the 14 years he spent there.

“I am a Southside Buc. And I will always be a Southside Buc,” he said.

“The pride the adults have in our schools, what if we could instill that pride in our students,” Murphy said before his board interview. “If we do that, we could easily go from good to great.”

“My motivation is nothing but the children of our parish and what we can do for the children of our parish,” Murphy said.

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