For Havelock High School Principal Jeff Murphy, a career in the academic world has proven nearly as varied as his early life as the globetrotting son of an Air Force missile specialist.
A native of Winston-Salem, Murphy grew up in multiple states and three countries before graduating from high school in Stuttgart, Germany. Following in the tradition of his mother, father, two brothers and an aunt, he returned to the states to attend East Carolina University. After graduating, Murphy would spend 17 years as a band director at various schools, working for a time as band director at Pisgah High School in Canton before moving on to Jacksonville High School.
“I had four concert bands, two jazz bands. We did a Broadway musical every year in the spring, and I did a big marching band, multiple small ensembles. I also hosted the District Band Festival for six years and did other jobs in the Bandmasters Association,” said Murphy.
When plans were announced to split Jacksonville High School’s student body after the opening of Northside High School, Murphy said he realized he would lose about 100 of the 300 band students he was teaching.
“After that I decided to take some administration classes and got hired on as an assistant principal at Swansboro High School. Then I did one year at Northwoods Park Middle School in Jacksonville,” he said.
In 2003, Murphy was hired on as assistant principal at Havelock High School. Two years later, he was promoted to principal. Now in his 16th year at the school, he said he has worked to make the academic experience a more balanced one for the school’s students.
“I think we have a very balanced high school that offers a lot of things, but it isn't so spread out that you can't focus on anything,” he said. "I think we’ve made some good decisions throughout the years about what we offer so we can benefit students the most.”
A typical school day for Murphy begins at 6:30 a.m. He spends the early morning supervising students in the school parking lot before heading in for a full day of classroom observation, interviews and policy writing.
“You work with teachers trying to help them improve based on the current expectations, training and staff development, what they’re going to teach and how they're going to do it. It’s busy all day,” he said.
Murphy said he is especially proud of the job training courses — such as auto shop, engineering classes, and certified nursing assistant (CNA) and EMT programs — that are offered at Havelock High.
“The district has been focusing on trying to prepare students for local industries. I had seven students who went through the CNA program last year and all seven of them are going to nursing school. Most people would have to pay college tuition to become a CNA, but if they take it in high school, they can step into their nursing studies quicker,” said Murphy.
Murphy said his background has given him a certain amount of insight into the lives of many of his students, about a quarter of whom are from families stationed at or associated with Cherry Point.
”I understand what it’s like to be a military dependent,” he explains. “When military parents come in, the biggest worry is their kids and the school. That’s the things they focus on. I tell them I understand, because I grew up that way.”
Though he can relate to the transient life of many of his students, Murphy said the world they experience each day is far different than the one in which he grew up.
“Technology is slowly changing everything we do. If you just think about not having a cell phone now, it’s crazy, and it hasn't been that long ago. It’s been a big swing since I took my first typing class with an Underwood manual typewriter in 1976,” he said.
Murphy said technology has not only changed how educators teach, but also what students need to learn.
”The focus is different now,” he stressed. “We need to teach them to be critical thinkers. We need to teach them how to collaborate and how to work with others, because if we’re just going to give lists and dates and facts, that stuff they can access on their telephone in 10 seconds.”