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In split vote, Concord School Board approves Kathleen Murphy as interim superintendent

  • Kathleen Murphy

Monitor Staff
Published: 6/1/2020 11:09:01 PM

The Concord School Board confirmed Kathleen Murphy as the new interim superintendent of Concord School District Monday night, after a contentious public comment period where some community members expressed concern about the way Murphy handled an incident of racial bullying in her last job.

When Murphy was superintendent in Hampton, a family pulled their African American daughter out of the school district after they said incidents of racial bullying went unaddressed. The incident prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which determined in February that the school system had responded insufficiently to the report of discrimination.

“Incidence of racial bullying have been a problem for the Concord School District in the past and will only increase in the fall given the current demonstrations/protests about the targeting of black, brown, indigenous, and other people of color,” Concord parent Melissa Hinebauch wrote to the board as a public comment via email. “We need an interim superintendent who is a leader on racial justice, not one who has an extensive history of mismanaging and minimizing racial discrimination issues.”

Four members of the public questioned or opposed Murphy as interim superintendent during the remotely-held live meeting, while others cited their concerns by email. One former colleague called in to speak in favor of Murphy’s nomination.

Five members of the board voted to confirm Murphy as the district’s next interim superintendent, while four members voted against the nomination, expressing a desire to listen more closely to the community’s concerns.

Murphy addressed some of those concerns during the meeting, saying that she took the racial bullying report seriously and took steps to solve it.

“When I became aware of that situation, I immediately met with the parents and assumed — in retrospect not correctly — that we had found resolve in what we and the family were looking for,” Murphy said. “Later, to find out that the family had filed a complaint with the New Hampshire NAACP. That was troublesome to us.”

Murphy said that she also took steps to re-examine the schools’ bullying policy, make sure school employees underwent special leadership training and hosted community conversations around race after the incident.

“We’ve discovered that its really about implicit bias,” Murphy said. “Our teachers, they do what they always do, they’re nurturers, they help provide the support systems, but I think in some cases we have all learned about our own implicit biases.”

Several Concord School Board members spoke highly of Murphy’s professionalism and years of experience, particularly in the area of special education.

“This isn’t a one issue candidate,” said board member David Parker. “This is a very experienced person who is kid-centered.”

School Board Chair Jennifer Patterson said she appreciated Murphy’s thorough answers to questions from the board and community.

“Her ability to look at and attempt to understand and learn from her mistakes, to me, is a tremendously qualifying experience,” Patterson said. “I think she is very well-qualified, not just in her academics, but in her experiences and how she has responded to them.”

Other members advised caution in appointing someone with a controversial past, in light of recent anti-racism protests taking place across the nation, and the Concord School District’s own sexual misconduct controversy last year.

“I am not sure as a city where we are right now with our past, where we are right now, sadly, as a nation, that I am comfortable moving forward,” said Board member Chuck Crush. “We are hiring a leader of the Concord School District for the next year and I would like to be thoughtful and conscious.”

Board member Jim Richards agreed.

“Having lived through more than a year of people criticizing us for being insular, for thinking we know more and don’t want to listen to folks, I do not see a problem with waiting,” Richards said.

Board member Barb Higgins, who was on the selection committee, was critical of an article in the Sunday Monitor that reported on past issues in Hampton.

“If there’s anyone in the world who is sensitive to the press and the fake news, it’s me,” Higgins said. “The Concord Monitor and many of those reporters just want to sell papers. I get very frustrated when a newspaper article comes out, and within six hours everyone hates our nomination. If everyone believes what the Concord Monitor writes, we are in big trouble.” 

The motion to approve Murphy as superintendent passed in a 5-4 roll call vote. Board members Patterson, Higgins, Parker, Liza Poinier, and Gina Cannon voted to appoint Murphy, while Crush, Richards, Tom Crouteau and Danielle Smith voted against the appointment.

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