By Harold C. Ford
Keiona Murphy has settled in to her new position as assistant superintendent of Flint Community Schools. Murphy was elevated from her interim status as assistant superintendent. Her salary of $114,954 is augmented by an additional $4,200 stipend. Her appointment on Feb. 9, along with other central administrators, was approved by a unanimous vote, 7-0, of the Flint Board of Education (FBOE).
Murphy’s responsibilities include: state and federal programs; technology; directing student and family services (enrollment); pupil accounting; and athletics. Her previous positions at the Flint Community Schools included staff assistant and acting assistant director for Pupil Personnel Services, program director of Going to Grade 9, parent and community engagement coordinator, centralized enrollment coordinator, director of state, federal and local programs, and interim assistant superintendent.
East Village Magazine (EVM) interviewed Murphy shortly after her new appointment. EVM’s questions and Murphy’s responses are presented below in a Q & A format and are edited for reasons of brevity and/or clarity.
EVM: You matriculated through Flint schools. Please describe your path.
KM: She attended elementary school at Coolidge; “The wonderful Jim Bracy was my principal during that time.”
She then went to Whittier and Central during her secondary school years, earning her diploma from Central High School in 2000. She began working for the district in the eleventh grade as a co-op student at the administration building in the deputy superintendent’s office.
“I’ve never worked anywhere else but, in the district, … Not only did I receive my education here, but I’ve always worked here since I was 15 years old,” she said.
EVM: When did you realize you wanted a career in education?
KM: “The co-op experience introduced me to the business of education … It was truly an immersive, hands-on experience.”
She was mentored by a variety of FCS personnel.
“At that time, I could see the value of the work that educators were doing and I wanted to be a part of that … The educators here in Flint helped shape that (career goal) for me … I always had aspirations as a student growing up in the inner city (and) expectations from my parents.”
EVM: Being a classroom teacher is not on your resume. Do you perceive that as an asset, deficit, or neither?
KM: “I have so much respect for the work that teachers do … that principals do … and I see our role at central office is to relieve a lot of their burden so that they can do the magical things that happen in a classroom and school building.”
She recalls who her classroom teachers were in her youth, but she does not remember central administrators.
“Making sure that they (teachers) can stay focused on the business of educating scholars is the most important thing … If they are burdened with the work that should be handled at the central office, then they’re not able to give their best to the scholars that are looking them in the eyes.”
Murphy said her role is to provide “funding … resources to teachers, to principals, to scholars … engage our families … support (for) scholars being in school regularly.”
EVM: FCS receives COVID relief (ESSER, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding. Are you confident that all COVID relief funding available to FCS is going to be spent in a timely manner?
KM: “It’s definitely going to take a collaborative effort in order to meet deadlines and benchmarks … I am confident we’re going to meet every deadline … There’s not much flexibility with that.” Murphy said FCS would receive approximately $144 million in ESSER funds, more than Flint’s city government.
EVM: Technology in FCS: Currently, what’s right and what needs repair?
KM: “We’re at the point now where we’re two-to-one in terms of (electronic) devices for scholars.” Each FCS student has one device at school and one to use at home.
“Some of our constraints that still exist, we have ‘historical’ buildings that were not built at a time when having technology and having access points … ethernet cables …they didn’t exist when buildings were constructed.” [Note: The average age of FCS buildings is 71 years; the average age of 84,000 school buildings in the U.S. is 49 years.] “We are trying to move our technology forward.”
EVM: About one-third of children who live in Flint are enrolled in FCS? Why do you think most students do not attend Flint schools?
KM: “The landscape has definitely changed and there’s much more competition in education now than there has probably ever been with the introduction of unlimited charter schools and the Schools of Choice program that our county has …
“We’re continuing to want to tell the story of Flint Community Schools, letting parents know the amazing educators … awesome programs and services that we have, that are unique to Flint.” Murphy said FCS is reaching out to Flint families to promote the benefits of attending Flint schools.”
EVM: The auditing Firm Plante Moran Cresa recently indicated that FCS student enrollment would bottom out at below 3,000. Do you have confidence that FCS student enrollment will ever again significantly surpass 3,000?
KM: “Yes. We’re very optimistic about our potential for growth … We’re very future-focused on the opportunities that we have to grow our district. We believe we have unique services and programs that can’t be offered elsewhere … Yes, we understand the data; it would be irresponsible not to.”
Murphy said that the “once-in-a-generation” (ESSER) funding now available will help boost enrollment.
EVM: What are the most important “services” you deliver to families and students?
KM: One service that we provide is our after-school food service … We can’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic any more. We have to provide well-rounded services to scholars and families.”
Murphy also cited the importance of nursing services provided by FCS. “We have nurses in every school; that’s unique to us here in Flint … Our approach is about the whole child … We have social workers that provide multi-tiered systems of support.”
EVM: Describe the responsibilities of a “pupil accounting programmer.”
KM: “I work hand-in-hand with submitting those (student enrollment) accounts … I’m supporting the team that is (providing accurate student counts to state government).”
EVM: Jamie Foster, FCS athletic director, reports to you. FCS accumulated 47 team state championships in 65 years, 1930-1995. In the past 27 years, 1995 to the present, FCS has zero state athletic championships. What other goals does FCS strive for in its athletic programs?
KM: “We’ve been building our ‘feeder programs’ so that we have elementary programs, middle school programs that feed into our high school programs … building those practices at a young age perpetuates and prepares our teams for state championships. That’s (championships) not out of our sights but we know we have to start at our feeder programs to ensure that we have scholars that are competitive at the high school level. We always start with the student part of student-athlete.”
Going to Grade 9 cited skill-building to include discipline, good attendance, sportsmanlike conduct, success in the classroom, and teamwork. She cited “diverse” athletic offerings for students to include e-sports.
EVM: Will the Crim Foundation support FCS athletic programs in the future?
KM: “Right now they support those early elementary and feeder programs and they’ve really done a great job with our partnership in building those programs. I don’t see that ending any time soon.”
EVM Education Reporter Harold Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.