When Sue Murphy started her career as a teacher in the McFarland School District, there were only two school sites – an elementary campus for grades kindergarten through six and a high school for students in grades 7-12.
A lot has changed since the Waubesa Intermediate School principal began teaching in the district, and the end of the school year will mark a change for Murphy as she retires.
“I love my job, but I’d like to have some flexibility in my day and do some traveling and try some different things potentially,” she said.
For the last decade, the UW-Madison graduate has been the principal at WIS, but her time in the district began three decades ago. She started as an intern third and fourth grade teacher in the spring of 1989, and at the start of the next academic year, she was a fifth-grade teacher at the newly built Indian Mound Middle School.
Murphy taught fifth grade for 16 years and can remember transferring her classroom alongside other grades 3-5 staff members to the newly completed WIS during the 1990-91 winter break.
“I enjoy this age group because they’re relatively independent … yet they are really excited about learning. They ask a lot of questions about how things work and why things happen the way they do. I think it’s really easy as a teacher to tap into that excitement,” she said.
The decision to seek out the role of principal was based on her experience in various leadership roles such as serving on the building leadership team at IMMS and WIS. During this time, Murphy also did some professional reading that piqued her interest in being a principal. She completed her principal certification at Edgewood College before transitioning to the administration role.
Murphy didn’t just work with the younger students; she was the McFarland High School girls basketball coach from the 1992-93 season until the 2007-08 year. The game ball from the 1999 state championship game sits on the top of her desk along with a conference championship basketball.
“That was a great accomplishment,” Murphy said.
The principal also spent several years as the JV volleyball coach.
Her decision to stay in the McFarland School District for the duration of her career was because of the community’s support of education, which is evidenced in the continuing support of facilities referendums. Murphy said that type of support really helps as a teacher and administrator.
Reflecting on her career, she is most proud of the connections she has made with students and parents.
“As the principal, I’ve really made it a goal to learn all my students’ names,” Murphy said.
To put this in perspective, WIS had roughly 560 students this year, and each year there is a new group of third graders for her to meet.
Among the most memorable moments are when she would see a student who things may not come easy to; Murphy would watch the youth go through the struggle and realize the student was going to be OK.
While looking forward to having more time to travel – she has a three-week trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia planned for summer – the principal knows she will miss all of the people.
“I’ve made many great friends, and the students can just make your day,” Murphy said. “I am really grateful to the people here; I would have not stayed for 30 years if not, and it has such a strong community feel. No matter what event you go to, people want to support all kids and not just their own.”