LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Sarah Murphy

Position: Guidance Counselor - Grades 3-5
School: JFK Elementary
School District: Winooski School District
City, State: Winooski, VT

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Sarah Murphy was nominated by her principal, Sara Raabe.

Ms. Murphy has been a guidance counselor at JFK Elementary for eight years. During this time, she has made a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of students and staff members. Ms. Murphy is dedicated to the community and her school. She exemplifies a professional educator who creates a positive experience for students.

JFK Elementary is located in Winooski, VT. It's considered a large elementary school in Vermont, with almost 400 students. It's located in the same building as the district's offices, as well as its middle and high schools. Around 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Additionally, Winooski is a national refugee resettlement city, resulting in over 20 languages spoken in the district. Fifty-eight percent of Winooski's 884 students are Black, Asian, Hispanic or Multiracial, making Winooski the only "minority-majority" district in overwhelmingly white Vermont. The net result of these numbers means that around 90% of the population has experienced developmental trauma.

This unique population creates a unique school and unique challenges. Ms. Murphy has embraced these challenges and works every day to meet them. She gets snacks donated so that there's extra food for students who are hungry. She was integral in starting a fall clothing drive so that the entire community has winter-appropriate clothing. In addition, she works with local businesses to get shoes, coats, and boots donated so that she can give them to students in need throughout the year.

Ms. Murphy not only works hard to get her students’ physical needs met, but she also works to get their emotional needs met. She launched a social thinking program in her school, using it as the basis for her weekly guidance class lessons. She works with social workers from local pediatricians' offices and the Department of Children and Family to support students. Ms. Murphy meets monthly with the school-based health clinic’s social worker to ensure that they're on the same page for students. She has also arranged for local independent therapists to come and see students at school during the day. Her school now has a room dedicated to outside therapists, where about 20% of the student population receives therapy in school during the day. Organizing this has had a huge positive impact on students, as many of their families do not have the transportation resources necessary to get the students to therapy outside of the school day.

Ms. Murphy is seen as a leader in her school. She is a member of the JFK Leadership team, and has been instrumental in getting the PBiS (Positive Behaviors and Interventions) system up and running. This has become one piece of the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, and she has had a hand in developing each of the tiers. The climate and cultural changes in the school since implementing PBiS and MTSS have been amazing. Her school is a positive, happy place, and the majority of students love coming to school.

Ms. Murphy also runs the annual scheduling committee, which is no easy feat. Her school has shared staff and space with the middle and high schools, and has a population with a lot of needs and supports. Ms. Murphy has taken this challenge on head-first by facilitating a group that creates a schedule each year that is best for students.

While Ms. Murphy works hard at school to support her staff and students, she also has a family and is in graduate school for her administration certification. She beautifully balances being the mother of a young child, a wife, a fantastic employee, and a student. She uses her graduate school work in the building every day, often talking to her colleagues about things she learns and how they could use them to support the Winooski community.

"I have been in education for 20 years - 12 as a classroom teacher and eight as an administrator. I have never had the privilege of working with someone as highly skilled and committed as Sarah Murphy," said Raabe. "She knows all of students and families by name, can tell you the history of our families, and is deeply committed our families as their students move through our schools. Each day, I continue to be amazed by her knowledge, intellect, and her commitment to our community."