It was 2:49 on Monday, August 23, 2010.
Principle Dave Murphy sat in an almost meditative state in his office at Stanley Switlik Elementary, clutching a piece of paper and studying it with intent focus.
During pre-planning last week, the myriad of teachers neared the end of a faculty meeting with the former assistant principle of Coral Shores High School and surmised their new leader’s head was spinning with new information.
“I told them I could handle everything else, but I was most concerned with dismissal on the first day of school,” Murphy laughed.
As the minutes ticked down until the first bell would ring and release kindergarten students, Mr. Murphy put the sheet of paper that outlined the dismissal schedule and diagram to speak with The Marathon Weekly.
The young administrator grew up in Northern Illinois, topographically much like the Florida Keys but without the beautiful water and tropical temperatures. When he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa, Murphy moved to Broward County and began his educational career in Fort Lauderdale area high schools.
More than a decade ago, he moved even farther south and accepted a position teaching high school science in Tavernier. After six years in the classroom at Coral Shores, Murphy stepped up to serve as Assistant Principle at the high school.
“Clearly, most of my experience has been at the secondary level,” he noted, explaining his initial apprehension when retiring Switlik principal Barbara Wright discussed the soon-to-be vacant position. “She thought that with the skills I had, I’d do well here.”
So as the young students piled off the busses and untangled their tiny fingers from their parents’ grasp, what was the biggest difference between his former position in a high school and the new challenge of leading an elementary school?
“Well, I certainly wasn’t used to seeing crying students,” he smiled of the first day of school. “Or crying parents, for that matter! I thought they’d be happy to send them back to school after summer break!”
Once all the students filed off to the classrooms with their respective teachers, Murphy had the chance to meet with each grade level and introduce himself. Amazed at their ceaseless energy, he asked the students in each class what makes Stanley Switlik a great school.
“They were so excited and all raised their hands at the same time. You know they all want to answer as a group. One first grader raised his hand, and with a big smile across his face, responded, ‘We’ve got great bus drivers!’”
Mr. Murphy requested each of the teachers complete a survey prior to students’ return, and he admitted that the sense of teamwork among the teachers is phenomenal. Shuffling through the stack of surveys, he read, “Team spirit, family, teacher dedication. They really view themselves as a family, and it results in a great commitment to the students. The faculty here has zero turnover, and we have a track record of success.”
Calling himself a “rookie principal” supported by Assistant Principal Ana Hortensi who transferred to the school in the middle of last academic year, Murphy called the staff “unbelievable” in their capabilities to lead the school and educate their students.
“We have tough demographics here in the Keys, yet schools still have high performance. I’ve asked the teachers to critically examine ways to improve this year, and everyone’s ready for the challenge,” he commended.
Murphy and his wife, Tiffany, a math teacher at Plantation Key School