Murray looking forward to modernizing Haddonfield education

School district’s new chief academic officer brings 21st-Century mindset to new role

Dr. Colleen Murray, new Chief Academic Officer for the Haddonfield School District, poses outside her new Philadelphia apartment. (Photo credit: John Murray/Special to the Sun)

Dr. Colleen Murray recently began her tenure as full-time, year-round chief academic officer for Haddonfield School District, and her commitment to the task at hand isn’t quelled by the distances she has to travel day-by-day and week-to-week. In pursuit of academic acumen, the journey has already taken her from coast to coast.

“I come from the Jersey Shore, and I live on Long Beach Island. For this job, I’m living in Philadelphia and going home to LBI on the weekends. I came to education because I always enjoyed working with younger people and helping others, and trying to be a positive role model in young people’s lives,” Murray said.

Murray has taken a deep dive into her discipline, spending time in four graduate programs since her days as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. Murray stayed there, hooking onto her first graduate program in secondary education. Moving across the Delaware River, Murray attended Kean University while she was teaching to gain a master’s in administration, then chose Stockton University for a master’s in learning technologies. Finally, a cross-country jaunt yielded a doctorate from Pepperdine University in education psychology and learning technology.

Through all the toil, sweat and travel that accompanied her learning and growth as an educator, Murray never lost touch with the classroom environment.

“I’ve been teaching since 1998. I started at Pinelands Regional Middle School, teaching seventh and eighth graders, and then I went to Southern Regional High School, where I worked right up until this job,” she explained. “In that time, I’ve undertaken a lot of projects as an administrative leader in my district. I’ve created a professional development program, I also created a digital learning environment for my students, where they created their own e-portfolios. I teach other teachers how to create e-portfolios, I’m a Google innovator.”

That drive to innovate and modernize has already shaped Superintendent Larry Mussoline’s brief tenure with the district. Murray found an easy philosophical parallel in accepting the post here, admitting it was a big part of the draw, seeing Mussoline as a similarly forward-thinking individual who wants to help bring this district into the 21st century.

“This is also why I feel Haddonfield is so appealing, that this job was created. Not a lot of schools are forward thinking in that way,” Murray said. “If you look at my former school — which is a wonderful school — but it’s like every other school in New Jersey in that you have a separate supervisor for social studies who might be an assistant principal also, and then a separate supervisor for English. So every school organizes a little differently, but where Haddonfield is smart, in creating this role, I help in creating a unified curriculum.”

Murray also spoke of the Strategic Planning Commission, led by Dr. Judy Wilson, which seeks to canvass the community and find out what Haddonfield wants to move forward academically. Her role as chief academic officer will be to implement what the community asks for, and ultimately she feels it will line up with what both she and Mussoline want for students, which is to be prepared for the future.

Dr. Colleen Murray in her temporary office adjacent to the library at Haddonfield High School

“So, if you went into any corporate headquarters or any doctor’s office, and you ask somebody ‘did high school give you everything you needed to get here?’ they would probably say ‘no, I could have used this’ or ‘I could have used that,’ or ‘my work life is very different from high school.’ So our goal is to try and make it more apropos,” Murray added.

Murray’s clear aim to adjust the district’s academic plan is not to use existing technology more, but to use it in a more useful and purposeful way.

One of the frameworks Murray believes can accomplish that goal is the T3 model: Translational, Transformative and Transcendent, which she favors because of its simplicity and ease to communicate. Another popular model Murray spoke of was the TPAC, which stands for Technology, Pedagogy and Content. Murray’s goal is to try and get educators to think in those terms, and not to simply be throwing shiny new toys at the kids when upgrades to popular electronic devices appear.

“It’s truly a different world out there for our learners. Very exciting, but we haven’t gotten there yet. That’s where I like to see our learners go because that’s much more exciting, useful and key to solving world problems,” said Murray.