Grady teachers lobby BOE to reverse decision on Murray

The Southerner

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Amid reports that Grady Principal Vincent Murray is being reassigned to another school at the end of the current academic year, the Grady faculty is acting in support of the veteran leader, who has been at the helm since 1991.

Faculty members are planning to speak at the Board of Education meeting Monday evening, which will be held at 6 p.m. at the Center for Learning and Leadership building (130 Trinity Avenue SW, 30303).

A group of 25 (and growing) Grady faculty members collaborated to write and send the following letter to members of the Atlanta Board of Education:

“We address this letter to you as a group of Grady faculty members concerned about the rumored changes in leadership. Because we feel the atmosphere at Grady will change without the direction of our principal, Dr. Vincent Murray, we believe that we must speak out. As we move into the SACS reevaluation, and as we graduate the first class that entered under the Transformation and we work to fine tune the functioning of our reform model, as we hope to move off of the Focus school list, and as we adjust to what we hope will be inspiring new leadership from the new superintendent, we need continuity, stability and institutional memory.

A new principal, no matter how good, will not have time to effectively observe his or her team or to build the relationships with the faculty and staff necessary to select and assign the appropriate people to make the SACS evaluation process effective. This process does not merely bring in an outside group to assess our effectiveness; it calls for the entire faculty, the staff, the parents, and the community stakeholders to undergo a self-assessment of all programs at the school over the course of a school year. Trust is the glue that allows this process to bind the team while it undergoes what can be, if it is brutally honest, a traumatic inward examination. And truly, the process is most effective as an evaluation if we are honest. Because he has guided us through three previous SACS assessments, Dr. Murray does have the trust of his faculty and staff. Each time we have emerged from the process and put into place new initiatives to address to challenges and inadequacies we identified; each time we improved as a team. We may not always agree with his every decision, but we recognize that Dr. Murray always prioritizes Grady students when he makes those decisions. He always listens to the stakeholders in trying to reach the best decision for the school and the community, and he always trusts his faculty, and backs his team.

Trust must be earned. It grows over the course of time. A principal earns the trust of his faculty by supporting the new teacher with constructive feedback rather than punitive criticism, by allowing students and teachers to take risks in speech, in print, on stage and in visual representations because he knows that students only really find their authentic voice when they say, create, and write what they really believe. He wins our trust by championing excellence and collegiality, by encouraging faculty to take risks, and to try new strategies, and by listening to us, and guiding us to listen to each other. This trust cannot be built in the short time a new principal would be at the helm.

The Grady community is unique. We are a vocal and opinionated bunch. Our students, their parents, and of course the faculty, embrace and epitomize our motto, “Individually we are different; together, we are Grady.” It requires a deft touch to bring this group to the table and get us to work as a team. Dr. Murray has earned the trust of the broader group, and he has ushered us through several difficult transitions: he guided us through the difficulties brought about by the closure and displacement of the Techwood neighborhood; he oversaw the smooth retirement and replacement of two Magnet Coordinators; he managed us through an on-site renovation; he implemented the Transformation even in the face of the reluctance by many faculty and community stakeholders, and he ‘calmed the waters’ during the political upheaval caused by the Cheating Scandal and Accreditation scare. His willingness to buy-in to community made this possible. He holds many meetings: monthly Coffee with the Principal with parents, weekly Cabinet meetings with school leaders and faculty, monthly meetings with a Local School Council made up of parents, teachers and other stakeholders, regular faculty and PTSA meetings, and frequent informal chats with individual parents, teachers and students. In every instance he listens far more than he speaks. While some may see this as weakness, we know this is his strength. He does listen. He thinks carefully about the choices he can make, and genuinely tries to reconcile the often, competing interests, and to choose a path that benefits the collective. He attempts to explain and sell his choices to the group. When he does not have a choice about a mandatory course of action, he attempts to find a way to make those directives work for our unique community. This may not be an obvious or showy kind of leadership, but in his quiet, often self-effacing way, he truly leads. In this time when we must adjust to new system-wide leadership, and when our incoming students have just experienced a shake-up and an interim principal at Inman, we need that kind of deft leadership.

Most importantly, this would be the wrong timing and message to send to the entire APS community. The perception of disrespect created by dismissing the contributions and service of an employee who has served the system with distinction with no more explanation than “We want to move in a different direction.” would damage us all. The Governor’s investigating team chastised APS for fostering “a culture of fear” that allowed a few cheaters to multiply and thrive unchecked for years. If APS wants to attract and retain the personnel who can transform the system’s tarnished image, it should wish to honor the service of such a distinguished employee, rather than dismiss him without explanation, creating for him a cloud of mystery and innuendo.

For all of these reasons, we ask you to urge the Superintendent to re-consider his decision. Thank you for your attention and consideration.

Members of the Grady Faculty”

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