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Perseverance Leads to Educational Leadership Position for GSE Grad

After encountering and overcoming a number of professional and personal challenges in his education career over the last few years, Fordham GSE master of science in education, school building leader program alumnus Sean MacBride Murray (’16), joyfully ascended the educational leadership ladder this fall – and moved directly from classroom teacher to principal of St. James School in Sewickley, PA.

Sean says his challenges began in 2015 with negative experiences with administrators when he was a special education teacher at a high school in the Bronx, experiences that changed his outlook on how he would shape his career in education. Sean explains, “In my professional development work with my colleagues at the high school, I realized I wanted to become somebody who helped teachers improve the great work they were already doing. I saw educational administration as a way for me to do this.”

As a result, in the next step for his career, Sean began exploring and applying to educational leadership programs, choosing Fordham GSE’s accelerated master of science in education school building leader program as the one where he felt most comfortable. Despite health issues that slowed his progress toward a May 2016 graduation, Sean was able to graduate in August 2016.

Following graduation, family needs necessitated that Sean relocate to southwest Pennsylvania, where he encountered obstacles to obtaining a teaching position. “The first few months were hard . . . I could not get a teaching license in Pennsylvania without doing student teaching all over again, which I couldn’t afford to do,” shared Sean. “However, I was able to obtain a principal’s license, which was my goal anyway.”

Yet even with principal credentials, he found it difficult to find work in a Pennsylvania school. Sean substitute taught, but then left the teaching profession altogether at one point, for a position in a nearby Apple store that offered a steady income to pay his rapidly mounting bills. Teaching, though, was his background and passion – and after about eight months, Sean landed a teaching assistant position with The Bradley Center’s school in Pittsburgh, a licensed, private academic school for elementary and secondary students who suffer from mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. He then quickly moved into a position as a special education teacher there, still always thinking he would continue to somehow pursue a position in educational leadership.

And thus, after just over three years, Sean left The Bradley Center to try his hand as an education advocate at the Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender. As an education advocate, he worked to help students in the juvenile justice system campaign for their educational rights. Although Sean found this work fulfilling, he still knew his true place was in a school as an educator.

Finally, an unexpected opportunity presented itself at his daughter’s Catholic school. At the time, four Catholic schools were being merged into a single school, and Sean was on the committee to help make the transition. Initially, the position of assistant principal became available – a position perfect for him. However, the school decided to hire two principals instead of a principal and an assistant principal, and Sean was disappointed once again.

In the meantime, unbeknownst to Sean, the regional administrator for the Catholic schools who interviewed him for the position at his daughter’s school had given Sean’s name to one of her colleagues in another region of the diocese. Although Sean knew that person was hiring for a principal position at one of his schools, he did not intend to apply since he did not yet have experience as an assistant principal. Nevertheless, Sean received an email from the regional administrator, inviting him to apply for the job of principal at Saint James. After two interviews and much perseverance in not losing sight of his calling, he was offered the principal job.

Sean Murray’s desk at St. James – Photo courtesy Sean Murray.

Now as the grateful principal at Saint James, Sean says the teachers at the school do a fabulous job of making sure the curriculum is accessible to all students in every classroom. In his recent review of a teacher’s lesson plan for an observation, the discussion centered on making sure that every child in the class had access to what the teacher wanted them to learn. Sean reflected, “At Fordham, all my professors were laser-focused on creating a school culture that ensures access to the curriculum for all students and that makes everyone feel accepted. This is what we are doing at Saint James.”

John W. Lee, Ed.D., one of Sean’s educational leadership mentors, agrees: “Fordham GSE’s program in building leadership is committed to preparing leaders who make a positive difference in the schools they lead and in the lives of the students they serve. Our graduates have both the theoretical and practical knowledge to assume leadership positions and to be effective in those positions. Even as graduates, they know they still have their professors as mentors and their fellow students as a support network. They are not alone as they take on the challenges of new leadership roles and responsibilities.”

More About Sean MacBride Murray

From an early age, Sean Murray was interested in attending Catholic educational institutions. First, Sean attended St. John Seminary School of Theology, where he earned a master of arts degree in theology and a master of divinity degree. Fordham’s Catholic identity was important to him, too. He put it this way: “I knew a lot about the Jesuits because I had gone to seminary. The principles of a Jesuit education are very important to me. Everyone should be entitled to a quality education, whether it in public schools, private schools, charter schools or Catholic schools. Also, educating the whole person, cura personalis, resonated with my own Catholic identity. As a special education teacher, as a committed Catholic Christian who thinks everyone deserves quality in their lives, I’m all about making sure every student has access to as many opportunities as possible. My faith teaches me to be welcoming to everyone, and I try to live that in all I do.”


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