Schools chief gives pep talk at 2013-14 Clarke convocation

Posted: August 17, 2013

The Winchester Star

Mike Murphy, superintendent of Clarke County Public Schools, addresses employees on Friday morning during the school system’s annual convocation in Clarke County High School.
Joanne Wolfe (center) rises on Friday to help Clarke County High School’s varsity cheerleaders lead a cheer during the school system’s employee convocation. Wolfe teaches special education at the school.

BERRYVILLE — School, Mike Murphy said, is about more than textbooks and test scores.

It’s about building relationships to improve students and communities, the superintendent of Clarke County Public Schools told the division’s employees on Friday.

“Each of you has a passion for what you do,” Murphy said to about 350 people assembled in the auditorium of Clarke County High School for the system’s annual convocation. “Use your head. Use your heart. Use your voice.”

The employees — many decked out in “spirit wear” — took time out on the last workday before schools open on Monday to recognize some of their colleagues for achievements, welcome new workers and receive words of encouragement from division administrators.

The high school’s varsity cheerleaders were on hand to add pep to the proceedings.

Assistant Superintendent Rick Catlett told the crowd that he is entering his 25th year with the school district.

He could have moved to another system, he said, but stayed because of the ties he has built in the county — ties that can be used to enhance the lives of the children the educators work with daily.

“We need to build relationships,” Catlett said, “so we can have the supreme ability to support our students.”

Many “great things” are happening in the county schools, he said, and its educators should be proud of the work they do.

“We hear enough about public school bashing, what’s wrong with public education,” he said, “but in Clarke we can show people what’s right with education.”

Joe Shtulman, president of the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley, addressed the teachers, too, talking about the relationship between the nonprofit organization and the community and urging them to support its efforts.

The United Way plans to begin community discussions about mental health in October, in the wake of December’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. One of its goals will be making area schools safer.

A word of thanks to teachers was offered by Jasmine Bailey, president of the high school’s Class of 2014.

The 17-year-old daughter of Lisa Bailey and Glenn Polston said she had not envisioned being class president, but her teachers gave her the confidence to strive to achieve more than she expected.

“While we may complain at times about all that homework,” she said, “we honestly appreciate all your hard work.”

The convocation also featured the presentation of scholarships provided by the Clarke County Education Foundation to two of the system’s teachers who are continuing their education.

Kate Stewart, a kindergarten teacher at Boyce Elementary, and Dennis Sandala, a sixth-grade math teacher at Johnson-Williams Middle, each received $500 to support their master’s-level studies.

Murphy closed the event, telling the educators that they must have a “laser-like focus” on the important aspects of education even as they “remember the heart” of the students they lead.

He took jabs at the politicization of education, including federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind and state-level discussions about things that could divert money from public schools, such as voucher programs.

Proposed changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Murphy said, threaten to eliminate a funding stream targeting students who often need the most help.

“Congress, in its infinite wisdom,” he said, “wants to take set-asides away from poor kids.”

Those issues, however, are out of the local educators’ control. What they can do, Murphy said, is use their heads, hearts and voices to reach students and inspire them to achieve.

“You’ve got it,” he said. “Make sure this is the year that you use it.”

— Contact Vic Bradshaw