Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (5 of 9)
Shortly after arriving in the office this morning, I received a call from Samuel’s mother. She provided me with an update on Samuel. He has a court date in two weeks. We talked for a short time.
The rest of the morning quickly passed. At 1:00 pm I had to be at the regional office for a scheduled principals’ training. A staff member from the labor relation’s office was scheduled to lead the principals through a review of the new teacher contract.
The meeting started with the outgoing regional superintendent introducing the Interim Regional Superintendent. The former regional had accepted a superintendent’s position in a nearby suburban district. This was his last week. The Interim Superintendent is a former Philadelphia Regional Superintendent. He is coming out of retirement. The principals sitting beside me whispered in my ear, “So we are going from the Baby Super to Old Man Super.”
Baby Super introduced the interim. Old Man Super’s introductory remarks were brief.
“I prefer to be called Doctor. I am a formal man, old school. I want to make it clear that I am not a substitute. I am the Regional Superintendent. I will be continuing the good work that has been started here by my predecessor. Our work is about the children. We will expect the most of them. Student test scores will continue to rise. There will be no excuses.”
I could see then, that the new was going to be more of the same old, same old.
Later in the day, I had more of an opportunity to observe Old Man Super. He was in attendance at the meeting of Senator Kitchen’s Education Committee.
This meeting didn’t start until six o’clock. I was tired after the long contract training. It would have been nice to have gone home, but this committee meeting was a priority for me. I was a bit surprised to see Old Man Super when I entered the Senator’s conference room. The Baby Super never attended.
The Senator hadn’t yet arrived. Most of the committee members were already at the table. Ernie, one of the Senator’s aides, called the meeting to order. He pointed out that the Senator had a scheduling conflict and she would only stop by for a few minutes to say hello.
Just as he finished his explanation, the Senator entered the room. She apologized for not being able to stay. She said, “I have one thing I want to check on before I leave. What is being done about this woman, Christie Sims, who is harassing Mr. Murphy? I want a status report.”
Barbara, the Administrative Assistant for the Central Region, summarized the Region’s efforts to deal with Christie Sims’ issues. There were also two representatives from Mr. Vallas’s staff who made comments. One of these representatives ended his remarks by stating, “Senator, we want to assure you that Mr. Murphy will not be removed as Principal of Meade because of this woman.”
This comment created a momentary silence in the room. Harold, one of the committee members, broke the silence. “What exactly is that supposed to mean? Was someone thinking of removing Mr. Murphy?”
Harold is a retired principal. I had worked with him at Vaux Middle School. I was his assistant principal. I had learned a lot about school administration from him. He is a friend.
“No, that’s not what I meant. I mean that we have looked at this woman’s claims and we have decided that Mr. Murphy hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Harold responded, “ You have decided that he hasn’t done anything wrong! Well, that is really an inspiring message for principals. What kind of support is that?”
The senator directed her next remark directly to the interim superintendent. “Something has to be done about this woman. We should look at what legal actions we can take. This is criminal harassment the way she keeps after Mr. Murphy. I don’t like it. He is a good man and one of the best principals in this city. I want something done.”
The Christie Sims discussions continued for over twenty minutes. I was impressed with how much of a priority this matter was for the Senator. I was also touched by her views of me as a person. In a few brief minutes, I had received far more affirmation and true support from her than I had received from all of my supervisors over the last several months. Forty minutes after the Senator had just stopped by to say hello, she finally left. I felt a lot better. It’s good to know someone is concerned about my well being and reputation.