24 Apr Murry a 'huge part' of district's success
by Donna Lampkin Stephens
In 2007, instead of watching their children head off to college, Greg and Karen Murry pulled the reverse and left themselves. After 15 years in Springdale, where their children had grown up and were settled, Dr. Murry was hired as superintendent of the Conway School District.
“We’d had some contact from other folks [regarding superintendent positions], but it just wasn’t the right time,” Murry recalled. “I wasn’t one to pull my kids up and go to a different place; they’d grown deep roots [in Northwest Arkansas].
“But our daughter had gotten married and graduated from college, and our son was in his second year of college, so we decided to make the move.”
So the Murrys invited daughter, Whitney, and son, Tyler, for Sunday lunch to give them the news that they were leaving.
“We told them before we made the final commitment because I believe in trying to prepare people,” said Murry, now 54. “There were some tears, for sure, but they were on their own. It was not like we were picking them up for a move in their senior year.”
Murry grew up in Little Rock, attending Lee and Franklin Elementary Schools and Pulaski Heights Junior High before his family moved to North Little Rock, where he attended Ridgeroad Junior High before graduating from North Little Rock Ole Main in 1976. From there he went off to Arkansas State to study music.
He was at home the summer after his freshman year, involved in First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, when he got reacquainted with a young woman he had known from afar at church camp years earlier. Karen was from De Queen (Sevier County) and was studying to become an X-ray technician at Baptist Medical Center.
“I joke that she begged me to take her out, but I fell absolutely in love with her when I saw her,” Murry said. “We went out, and I knew it was the right thing.”
He finished his bachelor’s degree and earned a master’s in music at ASU before taking choral music jobs at Little Rock McClellan and Sylvan Hills. Along the way, Karen encouraged him to pursue his administrative credentials, which he did at UALR. After six years in the Pulaski County Special School District, they moved to Ashdown (Little River County), where he took his first administrative position, as assistant principal at the high school before becoming junior high principal.
“It was quite different, but I enjoyed it,” he said of making the transition from the classroom to the office. “It was a good opportunity to be able to help kids and help teachers.”
From Ashdown, the couple moved to Springdale for him to take a job as an assistant principal at a junior high. His daughter was in third grade; his son was about to start kindergarten. While in Northwest Arkansas, Murry earned his doctorate in educational administration in 1996. He also spent three years as a middle school principal and had the opportunity to open a middle school from scratch. He eventually landed in the district’s central office as assistant superintendent for business affairs.
That position proved pivotal in getting him to Conway.
“Dr. Murry came to Conway at a time when we needed a superintendent who was a leader in the area of finance,” said Carolyn Lewis, a former member of the Conway School District’s Board of Education. “He is considered to be one of the top superintendents in the state when it comes to public school finance. He was a perfect fit.”
Murry said prior to 2007, he had begun to want to pursue superintendent possibilities, but he wasn’t in a hurry to leave Springdale.
“I would’ve been happy in the job I had,” he said. “Springdale is a great place to be.”
He remembered giving his wife the right to refuse the move, but she told him, “No, this is important for you; that’s what we’ll do.”
“She’s the perfect wife; really, she truly is,” he said.
And Conway officials thought they’d found their perfect match in him.
“This was very evident when he worked tirelessly speaking to community groups explaining the need for passage of our school millage proposal in 2010,” Lewis said. “I am filled with pride every day as I drive by our new Conway High School under construction on Prince Street. I give Dr. Murry and the good citizens of Conway credit for this wonderful facility for our students.”
Murry agreed that the community had worked in close partnership with the district in getting the millage passed and the facilities updated.
“Conway is just a wonderful community,” he said. “This is just a tremendous place to be, and you look at the absolute support for the schools here in town. By and large, when people talk about their schools, most people are supportive and proud of them.”
From his office, he is able to see the daily progress on the new high school building, which is set to open in August.
“It is very gratifying,” he said. “It’s a testimony to the support our schools have in our community and the pride people have in their schools.”
So what’s next?
Phase 2 of the reconstruction, which is set to be completed in fall 2013, will include the construction of a new cafeteria, the razing of the old “pod” buildings and the connection of all the campus’ buildings. Murry said he looked forward to the district’s newest elementary school, Carolyn Lewis Elementary, getting up and running and to the transition o
f Sallie Cone Elementary to a Pre-K facility.
“We’ll continually be reassessing where we are and try to make sure our kids have a quality place to go to school,” Murry said. “But what goes on inside those classrooms is the most important thing. Our teachers can go under a shade tree and do quality work, but we need to continue to support instruction in the classroom and the continual improvement. We want to try to push it to be even better.
“We have the potential to be, and I believe we are on the verge of being, a world-class district in every aspect of the term. That journey will be a continuous one. Our folks are prepared to be able to take care of our kids.”
A perk to coming to Conway for Murry was the opportunity to join the Conway Men’s Chorus. He said that experience keeps him close to his original calling as a choral music teacher.
He and his wife are also active in the church he grew up in, First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, where he also sings in the choir.
Lewis said Murry had brought a sense of “calm professionalism” to the superintendent’s office.
“He is intelligent and hard-working, but most importantly, he is trustworthy,” she said. “He is a huge part of Conway Public Schools’ success story. I will always be grateful that he chose to become a part of our school district.”