New Matheny Principal is the Ultimate
Sean Murphy reads to Matheny student Ari Golub
while Ari's teacher Stacy Lafargue looks on.
Sean Murphy has two favorite words: “community” and “team”. He uses them frequently to explain the success of The Matheny School and to express his passion about its students, their families and his staff. “Together,” he says, “we tackle every issue. It’s important for teachers to see parents as partners and for the parents to see teachers as partners – everyone pulling together in the same direction for the benefit of the students. To create true opportunities, it takes a community, and it takes a team.”
Murphy, who grew up in Chesterfield, England, started working at Matheny 19 years ago as a personal care assistant and was named principal of The Matheny School in March. A resident of Washington, NJ, he received his BA in special education from New Jersey City University in 2001, became a special education teacher and was named vice principal in 2008. He also has an MA in urban education/administration and supervision from NJCU and is also an adjunct professor in the psychology and education program at The College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ, and is on the advisory board of the Education Department at Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ.
Matheny’s students all have multiple disabilities, and many of them are non-verbal. That, in Murphy’s opinion, should not prevent them from reaching their highest level of academic achievement while also obtaining maximum independence. One way the school helps them reach those goals is through technology, but Murphy insists that Matheny “does not have an assistive technology program. Instead, we integrate assistive technology into every single program that we have. If there’s something that someone cannot do without technology, you use technology to even the playing field. Because of technology, our kids can walk using adapted devices; and they can communicate. They can do practically everything; we just have to figure out how.”
A key priority of Murphy’s is to help Matheny’s students develop practical transitional skills that will help them in the community after they graduate. “With transition, we have come a long way,” he says, “but we have a lot further to go. It should be our goal to have our graduates integrated into popular society as much as is humanly possible.” There are several ways Matheny is accomplishing this:
- Service learning projects such as Operation Shoebox, an organization that sends care packages to troops stationed overseas, and the Peapack Community Garden.
- Authentic work experiences in Matheny’s in-house school café, equipped with an adapted cash register, AbleNet and Point-of-Sale technology.
- Community-based activities and structured learning environments such as the Bridgewater Township Library and the Gurukul Yoga Holistic Center, also in Bridgewater.
“We’re constantly recreating ourselves,” Murphy says. “We do that by using professional learning communities. The one thing that sets this school apart is the team-based experience. It’s not just rhetoric; people are vested to make things happen. The tenacity and innovation here is second to none. I’m just lucky to be able to leverage the skills of people who are already here.”
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