WNC native son takes the helm at Jackson County Schools

Jackson County Schools has hired Michael Murray, currently associate superintendent of Operations for McDowell County Schools, as its new superintendent. Murray will replace Sue Nations, who is retiring.

Murray has been with the McDowell County school system for the past six years, and prior to the position of associate superintendent, he served as the assistant superintendent of curriculum. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Mars Hill College in 1984. He then obtained his Master of Arts in Education in 1988, the degree of Education Specialist in 2005 and completed his program with the degree of Doctor of Education in 2008, all from Western Carolina University.

The son of a Madison County pastor, Murray grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina and graduated from North Buncombe High School. His wife, Carmen, is a principal in Buncombe County. They have seven children ranging in age from 11 to 25.

Murray takes over as superintendent July 1. He will be paid $120,000.


Q: Why did you want to become superintendent of Jackson County Schools?

A: During the past 27 years I have been preparing for and looking forward to the opportunity to lead a school system in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I absolutely love the mountains and enjoy working with these wonderful people. I have long wanted to be superintendent because I believe that I can serve our children in a meaningful and positive manner.

I am ready to take this next step in my career and I was absolutely thrilled when the opportunity developed in this school system. It is impossible to replace a person such as Sue Nations who has done a wonderful job creating a solid and innovative school system. I will do my very best to build on what she has accomplished as superintendent and help lead this outstanding school system to the next level.

The opportunity for building relationships and establishing collaboration between community partners is another positive aspect of this position with Jackson County Schools. Having such wonderful resources such as Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College are a rare opportunity for a school system.

Jackson County Schools is an excellent match for my leadership style and personality. This county has consistently maintained a quality education system that has a long-standing tradition of excellence. My strong passion for education and my high standards in the areas of honesty, integrity, trust and respect mesh perfectly with the ideology of this school system. I am excited about bringing my skills and expertise to Jackson County Schools where I will continue to build on the level of excellence already found here.


Q: In the face of steep projected state budget cuts, how can schools best tackle the challenges of educating students?

A: Every school system is currently facing the same budget crisis. Each system will have to know and understand the local, state and federal resources available and then determine the best optimal usage of these funds. The current administration has been striving diligently to make the most of their budget by saving Jobs Bill money, not replacing some non-instructional positions, and minimizing the amount of cuts needed to meet possible budget shortfalls.

It is critical that we continue to do our best to protect the integrity of the classroom. Building relationships and sharing resources with other agencies will be more important than ever. When facing the challenges of budget cuts, our goal should be to impact actual classroom delivery of instruction as little as possible. As we work through these hard economic times I will continue the same philosophy of the current administration. They have been able to maintain a strong educational foundation despite the budget cuts that have occurred. And when the budget outlook improves we should be able to start expanding important programs again and continue to provide phenomenal services to our children.


Q: What are the most significant challenges you see facing Jackson County Schools?

A: The budget crisis will continue to be our system’s biggest challenge for the next couple of years.  Ensuring that we use transparent leadership and make decisions that utilize limited resources effectively and that align with the district vision will be top priorities under my administration. Public education has changed mission calls and will require leaders that can create a school district will adapt quickly to improve performance. One of the main challenges will be for the superintendent, and a supportive school board, to create these systems of change and to build powerful relationships that tap into the collective knowledge of all the members of the educational family. We will need to focus on the use of data, research-based effective practices, teamwork, and creating professional learning communities within our organization. The biggest challenge will be to generate a sense of urgency to ensure that every student in Jackson County graduate from high school with 21st century skills and be equipped with the confidence to compete globally. Our school system is ready for the challenges we face and I certainly look forward to leading the charge.


Q: Blue Ridge School is a combined k-12.  Do you support this model, or would you consider consolidating all or a portion of the school?

A: It is my understanding that Blue Ridge School is actually two separate schools now. Three years ago it was separated into a pre K-Six configuration school and a 7-13 virtual early college school. I intend to continue to support the current administration’s approach to the configuration because it is apparently working well. However, current state proposed budget cuts could possibly eliminate funding for virtual programs across the state, which could affect the final decision on this program. I will be listening intently to my current leadership teams and working directly with our school system’s finance officer to monitor this situation closely.


Q: The General Assembly is likely to lift the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in North Carolina. There is already one such school in Jackson County. Do you believe charter schools pose a threat to the viability of public schools?

A: I am a very positive person and I try to maintain a good attitude regarding most subjects. Charter schools, private schools and other choices that are available should not be treated as a threat or talked about detrimentally. Obviously I strongly support public education and believe we should do everything in our ability to make it the best choice for parents.

I am aware of the proposal you have referenced; however, it is currently being debated heavily and has faced multiple changes from the original proposal. We should never be against good healthy competition or providing alternatives choices for our communities. Our responsibility in public education is to create and maintain a strong school system that creates future ready students for the 21st century. Maintaining rigorous and relevant core curriculum goals, using current technology as an effective tool to drive instruction, and providing highly qualified professional educators creates a situation that most parents should want to select for their children. These practices will eliminate the threat of not being selected when parents are given a choice.

All of my seven children have attended Western Carolina public schools.  I have been very pleased with the education they have received and are continuing to receive with this choice.  My goal will be to work diligently to provide the best choice, which will be Jackson County Public Schools.

Q: What are the strengths of Jackson County Schools?

A: In pursuing this position I did a great deal of research including pulling data on test scores, employee education/experience levels, school improvement plans, Race to the Top plans, Title I proposals and even the training level for each of our five board members.

Our greatest strength at Jackson County Schools is the people that make up the Jackson County School System. Beginning with our school board that have demonstrated strong commitment through the hard work of obtaining certificates of advanced training through the School Board Association. We have an outstanding central office staff that have proven what a wonderful resource they are and have shown their support for our schools every day.  Strong leadership is evidenced from our principals, administrators and leadership teams. Other departments work hard to provide safe transportation, clean and well maintained facilities, safe creative learning environments, financial checks and balances, clerical support and incredible student support. Quality instruction is provided by our teachers, teacher assistants, tutors, and the extremely important parent volunteers. Every member of Jackson County Public Schools educational family is committed to student success. What I found during my research that was consistently reinforced in countless ways was that dedicated people were making a major impact and this strength had combined to produce a tradition of quality education in Jackson County.

Strength is also apparent through the strong partnerships established with the community, particularly with Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University. These wonderful resources provide an educational advantage to our school system. Throughout my research I found a common thread showing that Jackson County has a reputation as a “caring” school system. My personality and style of leadership is based on building relationships. This strength of established relationships and partnerships with the school district was a perfect match for my leadership skills and experiences.

This is a tough question because Jackson County Schools has too many strengths to list. I believe it is critical that a superintendent understands the essential beliefs of the community and then use that knowledge to make sure we have common goals for our children. It will be my pleasure to serve the children of this community and I look forward to meeting as many people as possible starting this summer. It is an honor to represent Jackson County Schools as we prepare our children for the future.

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