The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Staff
Of The New Era 

Oak Heights 'home' for new principal


August 27, 2013

Courtney Murphy was sad to leave a community she loved, Sandy; but she did it for the growth of her career and to return to another community for which she has affection: Sweet Home.

Murphy, 46, is the new principal at Oak Heights, succeeding Colleen Henry, who has moved to Sweet Home Junior High to replace Hal Huschka following his retirement.

It’s a happy homecoming for Murphy, she says.

“I grew up here,€� she said.

Growing up, she played softball. She worked for her mother, Linda Murphy, at Don’s Duds, and worked fire watch for her father, Jeff Murphy’s, timber falling company. Later, her father purchased T&M Pizza as an investment.

She graduated from Sweet Home High School in 1985, then from Western Oregon University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in K-12 physical education and health. She went to work as a PE teacher at West Albany High School in 1992. While there, she began working on her master’s of education at Ore-gon State University, graduating in 2000.

From West Albany, she moved on to Oregon City’s ninth-grade campus and taught health.

Following a year there, she spent three at Rex Putnam High School in Milwaukie, teaching PE and coaching softball and volleyball. She assisted coaching in cheer. She taught PE and health at Reynolds High School in Troutdale for about four years. She coached cheer there and served as the district’s literacy coach, which prompted her to expand her career in education.

That experience helped her realize she wanted to become an administrator and touch more children’s lives, Murphy said. “It expanded my options to reach more children.€�

She could help them grow academically and improve their literacy skills, she said.

As a general rule, PE teachers do not get to help children expand their understanding of the world beyond athletics. The experience turned her attention to administration, and she enrolled in the University of Oregon’s administration program, completing it in 2006.

She didn’t need to finish the program to land her first administrative gig. One of her class assignments in the program was to contact working administrators and learn more about the requirements for their jobs.

She contacted Jim Saxon at Sandy, and he suggested she come by and visit the Sandy School District. She met him and 18 people serving on an interview committee. She had no idea she would be interviewing for a position, but Saxon asked her if she would be interested in becoming an athletic director. She agreed and became vice principal at Sandy High School, handling discipline, teacher evaluations and athletics.

Two years later, her son was starting school. She had hoped she would have more time by moving to Boring Middle School, which was in the same district and located on the same campus as her son’s elementary school. There she became more involved in curriculum and instruction, and she helped develop a positive behavior improvement system.

She ended up working just as much, she said, but that was all right. She had more time with her son and saw him routinely at school.

“It was absolutely fantastic,€� Murphy said. “I fell absolutely in love with middle-level kids.€�

They still have a “kid mentality€� and like to please adults, she said. “The other part I fell in love with at the middle level was parent involvement.€�

That is a crucial piece of a triangle necessary to educate children, including the child, school and parents, Murphy said.

She worked at the middle school for five years, including two years as interim principal when the principal went to the high school for two years following the passage of a bond and the construction of a new multimillion-dollar “green€� high school.

“The mentality of that district, I fell in love with that community because it was like Sweet Home,€� Murphy said. “People had intense work ethics and pride in their school system.€�

The principal, Tim Warner, who previously had been a coach in the Sweet Home High School basketball program with former head Coach Mark Risen, returned to the Middle School, so Murphy returned to her vice principal position.

The district was very supportive and told her that if it had the opportunity, it would give her an opportunity to be a principal.

In the meantime, she applied to be principal at Sweet Home Junior High, Murphy said. “I didn’t apply anywhere else. I was very happy in Sandy. I really was satisfied. I loved the Sandy community. It was a nice fit.€�

Sweet Home was the only other place that interested her.

After hiring Henry at the Junior High, Supt. Don Schrader contacted Murphy and asked her if she would be interested in Oak Heights.

She believes in continuing growth for herself and for the adults around here, so that they can help children grow academically. A good friend from West Albany, Susi Orsborn, her professional mentor since 1991, told her she ought to take the job and “grow as an instructional leader€� in a place she believes in. She told Murphy that she was looking at the job through “comfortable glasses.€�

After a visit from Schrader and Dave Goetz, human resources director for Sweet Home, and a visit to Oak Heights, she was convinced.

The Oak Heights staff is a “great group of people, who are passionate about their community. I just said I’m coming here and couldn’t be happier.€�

It didn’t improve her finances, but professionally and emotionally, it was good for her, Murphy said, and it will be good for her son, Cole, 10, who will attend Oak Heights this year.

“Being a single parent, my son will get additional support people in his life he didn’t have in another community,€� Murphy said. “He is thrilled and ecstatic about Mrs. Fountain (his new teacher).€�

He’s also excited that so many people know him already, Murphy said. People know his grandparents and he finds that exciting.

Sweet Home has changed a lot since Courtney Murphy graduated. Since then, the timber industry has declined, and Sweet Home has fewer resources. That’s why she is here.

The community and district need to work hard to make academic achievement a priority, she said. In the 1980s, there were jobs for graduating students.

Now, Sweet Home has big challenges and a high poverty rate, with limited resources; but “there are a lot of people that care about this community,€� she said. They are hard-working people who stay and live here and can bring the resources back.

“Our future is our kids,€� Murphy said. “We’re going to bring industry here.€�

And Sweet Home needs well-educated people, she said. “I want kids to know Stanford’s not a pipe dream, Yale is not a pipe dream.€�

She wants kids to succeed, and academic success is the highest priority, she said. There are more opportunities in academic scholarships than the limited number of athletic scholarships.

After 28 years, she never imagined she would end up in Sweet Home again, Murphy said, and she couldn’t be happier. This is the place where she developed a passion for education. Former SHHS Principal Lyle Jarvis probably had the biggest impact on her. He was the kind of principal who makes students feel like they were the most important, cheering each one on individually. She hopes to make him proud working in Sweet Home.

“I’m happy to be here,€� Murphy said. “I’m excited for my son, thrilled to be around people I trust and love – and hope to make a difference in the community and in our children’s achievement and future.€�


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