A teacher turned principal builds bridges at Parkville School

A teacher turned principal builds bridges at Parkville School
Kathleen Murray, the new principal at Parkville Elementary School in the Great Neck school district, said she hopes to make the school a place children will happily go to each day. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

If her principalship at Parkville School were to have a motto, Kathleen Murray said it would be a simple one: “building bridges.”

“I think ‘building bridges’ is perfect because I’ve seen so many situations in which things could be volatile,” Murray said, “and with a little kindness and patience you can really break through those situations and defuse it and then move forward.”

Kathleen Murray succeeded Debbie Shalom as the principal at Parkville School in New Hyde Park, which educates nearly 300 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students within the Great Neck school district.

Murray comes from John F. Kennedy School, where she was assistant principal since September 2014. Before that she was assistant principal of Munsey Park Elementary School, where she was a special education and general education teacher from 2000 to 2012.

Murray also worked upstate in the Carmel Central School District for 13 years between 1984 and 2000, as well as an adjunct professor in the Adelphi University Graduate School of Education from 2002 to 2007.

“[I] loved, loved, loved teaching,” Murray said. “I feel as though that’s what I was meant to do in life.”

“Children are children, wherever they are, so [it was] not too much of a shift for me,” Murray also said.

Murray said one of the first things she wanted to do was acclimate to the school, which she said she now feels a part of. Now, Murray said, she wants to create a “collaborative connection” with other principals and bring the schools closer together.

“The other thing I’m looking forward to is connecting our schools with the other elementary schools,” Murray said. “That’s something I’d like to work on this year – really build that bridge and connect our preschoolers with the schools they may go to in kindergarten throughout our district and then connect our kindergartners possibly with Lakeville.”

One example of this, she said, is the reading buddies program she formed with Lakeville Principal Emily Zucal. Third-graders from Lakeville School visit Parkville to read to their younger counterparts, Murray said, and have fun meeting each other.

“The kids were very excited,” Murray said.

Murray said the school also took its first step toward implementing the concept of “mindfulness,” where students will have “a sense of being in the moment and noticing what they’re doing in the moment.”

They already started a mindful Monday where the students participate in collaborative breathing exercises and discuss how they feel afterward, Murray said, and she hopes to someday find space for a mindfulness room in the school.

“I’m very much into mindfulness and did a lot of work with mindfulness at John F. Kennedy School, so I would really like to take that forward here,” Murray said.

Murray said Parkville had established “a wonderful balance between play and academics” before she arrived.

It’s a very important place because of the role it plays in helping students become independent, learn how to share, play collaboratively, understand friendship and pick up “really great habits they’ll take with them,” Murray said.

“Something about this school that makes it very special is we’re working with little 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds, and that lends itself to this joy,” Murray said. “We are the gateway to the rest of their education, their learning career … and so I think there’s a commitment to making it absolutely wonderful.”

Should a student ever feel a need to walk into her office, Murray said she wants them to feel safe.

Her office has a collection of toy frogs and stuffed animals – each with several different names because different children name them different things – from her past school experiences.

She also has a “children’s table,” which is home to a giraffe puppet (because it’s “Great Neck”), a pile of smooth multicolored stones and a small sand garden, a positive quote on a black board, pictures of family, and books touting both diversity and the importance of kindness.

“I want children to feel safe when they come here,” Murray said. “I want them to feel this is a place where they feel they can learn and feel safe to talk to me and work through whatever challenges they’ve had.”

And perhaps the same thing could be said for the school as a whole.

“My dream for every child in this school is that they’ll run to school in the morning, that they just tell their parents, ‘I can’t wait to get to school and see my teacher,’” Murray said. “That’s how I want them to feel and if we can do that, we’re doing a great job.”

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