Five days into her role as assistant principal, former North Salem Middle/High School teacher and science department chair Dr. Kathleen Murphy eases into her new desk chair to talk to North Salem News.
“It’s fantastic [here]; I love the district,” she said. “I love the faculty that I work with, and the kids are fabulous.”
But she admits the switch is in some ways bittersweet.
“I’m going to miss them,” she said, referring to her students. “That was the toughest part when I applied for this… it’s going to be very hard to not walk past ‘my’ science room.”
Still, she’s ready to tackle her new job.
“It’s interesting because I know about the school and everything, but there are a lot of administrative pieces that I need to become familiar with. Things that I’m aware that we have, but never actually paid attention to.”
Murphy is filling the role that was vacated by Dr. George Bovino, who retired after 30 years with the district at the conclusion of the 2016-17 academic year.
During her 11 years at North Salem Middle/High School, Murphy taught freshman Regents earth science, wrote the curriculum for, implemented and taught a forensic science class for upperclassmen, chaired the science department, and for two years, she coached soccer. Prior to joining the faculty at North Salem Middle/High School in 2006, she taught in Florida for one year upon the completion of her education in 2005. She applied to North Salem Middle/High School after realizing that a large school was not for her and she’s stayed ever since
Murphy has a master’s degree in instructional technology and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Western Connecticut State University, both of which she earned while working full time. Additionally, she holds a certificate of advanced study in educational administration from SUNY New Paltz that she completed in 2014.
Outside of school, she is an avid martial artist that enjoys spending time outdoors, watching crime shows and avoiding her husband’s pet snake.
If the 20-minute interview is any indication of Murphy’s ability to keep her cool in an otherwise distracting situation, North Salem Middle/High School is in good hands. She tuned out the incessant beeping of a broken smoke alarm with the expertise of a veteran teacher accustomed to tuning out distractions. That, or she has a knack for sustaining her focus, a skill likely picked up during her many years of martial arts training.
“I’ve always done martial arts since I was a kid,” the Lagrange, N.Y., native said. “I competed nationally for about six years.”
Murphy competed as recently as 2014, and stopped to complete her certificate at SUNY New Paltz. She exudes an easy-going confidence and maintains an air of humility when asked to list her accomplishments. In addition to casually leaving off the “Dr.” in her title when asked for her name, the martial arts competitor did not specify the numerous titles she’s earned in the ring, sharing only that she “won some stuff.” But according to the website she maintains with her fellow martial artist husband, she represented the United States at World Games in Portugal, Spain, Canada, Austria and Ireland, and as a member of the United States Martial Arts Team, the 4th-degree blackbelt is a 22-time World Karate champion, 16-time U.S. National champion and a six-time North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) world title holder.
Lucky for any potential troublemakers or rule-breakers, when it comes to education, Murphy is way more of a lover than a fighter. She defines her leadership style as inspiring and motivational.
“I’m excited to keep the positive atmosphere of the school going,” she said. She touted the open-door policies, friendly demeanors and a welcoming environment fostered by the former administration.
“It’s an established culture that they created that I intend to continue,” she said.
The school’s intimate class sizes lend to the development of that culture, she said.
“I like the small school feel,” Murphy said. “I like that it creates, almost, a family dynamic. Kids don’t fall through the cracks here; they don’t get lost in the shuffle.”
While she won’t draw attention to any of her competitive accomplishments, she did share what she thinks she can bring to her new role.
“I think I bring [the] support of the teachers,” she said, adding that she hopes her existing knowledge of the school’s culture and familiarity with the faculty will assuage any fears associated with the transition.
Having been a teacher for so long, she’s also hoping to continue to experience the most rewarding part of the job in her new role: sharing in the success of the students, from feats in the classroom, such as watching a student who struggled in one area of science flourish in another, to learning that a former student has made a career out of forensic science after they were introduced to the subject via Murphy’s course.
“I have a passion for teaching and educating young people,” Murphy said. “I believe it’s important. I believe education is what opens doors and allows people to change lives. It did for me.”