Profile 2019: Meet Wiliam Murphy and Dylan JonesBy BY RECARDO THOMAS STAFF REPORTER,
It may not happen very often, but every now and then a Teach for America participant leaves the program and comes to teach for the Delta.
Such was the case for both William Murphy and Dylan Jones.
Although they graduated from the TFA program more than a decade apart, each decided to stay in the Delta for basically the same reasons and in both cases, it has proven to be a good thing for Delta-area students.
Murphy, a Dunn, North Carolina native and graduate of Wake Forest University with a major in political science and a minor in American Ethnic Studies, made his first visit to the Delta in 2004 as part of the 40th anniversary celebration for the Freedom Summer in Mississippi project and was caught up by the people and culture of the Delta.
The Freedom Summer project gave him an opportunity to actually stay in Mississippi for a summer, collect oral histories of some lesser-known heroes and help local children collect oral histories as well.
“So, I left Mississippi that summer saying I’m going to come back to Mississippi,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he didn't know how or when, but he knew that he was returning.
Murphy said he had never stopped in Mississippi before, but has a memory of traveling through with a gospel choir on their way to Texas.
He called it interesting to now be a part of Mississippi realizing how many outsiders still have a “Mississippi Burning” type view of the state.
Murphy said he first met with TFA officials during his senior year and the goals of the program made him feel that it was something he could do, plus it would give him an opportunity to return to Mississippi.
He said the Mississippi Delta was his first and only choice.
His training took place in Texas.
“I graduated in May, packed my life in my car in June, drove from North Carolina to Houston, Texas for the training, which is really intense,” he said.
Upon completion, Murphy was assigned to Greenville as an elementary teacher.
“It was just an amazing experience. I never at one time came in saying, I’m doing my two years and I am gone,” he said. “My goal was just to do the best I could and to keep improving.”
Murphy spent four years teaching and coaching basketball teams in Greenville, was named district teacher of the year his second year and by his own admission, was getting better and experiencing some really good academic scores.
After about four years he enrolled in a sabbatical program at Delta State, which paid for him to go through a full-time leadership program at DSU with an agreement that he would return to Greenville to work for five years.
However, due to a problem and some turmoil in Greenville School District that never happened.
For his summer graduate internship, Murphy was assigned to Merritt Middle with Principal Glenda Shedd.
“It really became a blessing,” he added. After the sabbatical he got a call about an opening for a principal at Carver Elementary School and has been with Sunflower County every since.
“I got my start in Greenville, but Indianola gave me a chance to learn and become a leader,” Murphy said.
He was a principal at 26-years-old and admits that it seemed as though things were moving really quickly for him.
He spent six years at Carver and then an opportunity to be discipline coordinator through a grant in partnership with the Mississippi Center for Justice and ACLU was presented to him.
Murphy has spent the last two years as director of personnel and student affairs. And with 14 years in the Delta, a wife and three boys, Murphy is still just as much in love with the Delta as ever.
Murphy met his wife, who is an educator as well, through the church he attends; she is the musician there. He said a running joke among his friends is that his wife is the real reason he stayed, so his response is, “Yeah, between her and her mom’s catfish.”
“I just love the people and the Delta, the thing that keeps you here is the people,” Murphy said.
Likewise, Jones, a Haddon Township, New Jersey native and graduate of Drew University in Madison, N.J., made his way to the Delta in 2015 and never left.
Although he arrived in Sunflower County for different reasons, his reason for staying is the same. The people.
Jones said he has always had a passion for education.
He majored in political science and economics with a focus on education policies and politics and was advised by friends during his senior year that he needed experience in teaching to be effective in that area of study.
Jones concurred, especially since admittedly he is usually critical of people who talk about things they haven’t done. Someone suggested the TFA program so he decided to check it out.
During the application process, he noticed that the program had priority regions, so he opted for the Mississippi Delta.
“I said to myself, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to be pushed completely out of my comfort zone. I’m not going to go anywhere that I have family or that I’ve been,” Jones said.
His stomping ground had been the Jersey area, and his parents were in Chicago, so those areas were definitely out.
Jones said he studied and researched the Delta and determined that would be his destination.
“I was sold,” he said, “When I got placed in the Mississippi Delta, I was ecstatic.”
After completing the necessary requirements, Jones, like Murphy, loaded up his car. He headed to the TFA training center at Delta State University. He began his student teaching in Ruleville and that’s where he met Superintendent Miskia Davis.
Jones said he shared with her that he did not have a job at the time and within a matter of hours he was presented a contract and ended up teaching fifth through eighth-grade math at Inverness Elementary.
Jones said, “Three months into that, I knew that I wasn’t going to be here for just two years.” Jones said he didn’t know how long he was going to be here, he just knew he wasn’t leaving with the rest of the TFAs.
He spent two years in the classroom, but for the past year and a half he has been working in the curriculum department as a data and technology information specialist who supports math teachers.
“And I am here to stay,” said Jones.
He is currently enrolled in the Master of Education program at Delta State.
Jones said he grew up in a very fast paced environment.
He interned on Wall Street and the United Nations while in college, but realizes how amazing the Delta is; he was welcomed into the community with open arms.
He said he has established a great relationship with his colleagues,
“There was no, ‘Mr. Jones is not from here,’ it was like I just became a part of the Inverness community.”
Living in Indianola and working in the Sunflower County Consolidated School District has afforded him the same advantage, being a part of community.
“Never once was there any conversation about how I wasn’t from here or I’m a Teach for America, it was never like them versus me, it was always just like we have to get it done,” said Jones.
He emphatically believes that he couldn’t get that anywhere else.
“Being around people that are just as passionate is infectious,” Jones said. The New Jersey native admits that 10 years ago living in the Delta and getting a master’s in education was not on his radar, but now he can’t imagine himself anywhere else.
While at Inverness, he was awarded teacher of the year and he remembers that the late Coach Kirk Price stood up in a meeting before the vote was taken and said, “If you all don’t vote for Mr. Jones, we’re going to have a problem.” Jones said, “It was at that point in my mind, it was like I had kind of succeeded in being just another teacher at Inverness, not a TFA and not the white teacher from New Jersey.”
Jones said that was a turning point that made him realize he could do this (teach) and he was not going to leave. “I really enjoy doing this and people can see how much I enjoy it so, this is it,” he said.
Jones added that he was critical of himself because he didn’t grow up rural. “I grew up a privileged white person, so I wanted to make sure that didn’t come across, didn’t translate into my work,” Jones said.
Jones said he never thought teaching was his calling. “But educating children, working in education is exactly what I want to do,” he said.
Murphy said one of the parallels he recognized in both he and Jones was that they made an obligation to the district and not to TFA.
He explained that although TFA provides a great deal of support, which involves a lot of coursework while the participant is learning how to teach, TFA may come across as kind of a detached group for the teachers.
“They may just come together because they have a shared experience, but it can end up looking like a clique,” Murphy said.
The difference for him and Jones is that they made the people who were a part of the district the ones they relied on the most.
“I leaned more heavily on the advice of the custodian who had been there 30 years, in Greenville, who knows these kids better than anybody, than somebody who pops in and sees me once a month or twice a month,” Murphy said.
Both said they even stayed away from a lot of the activities TFA had and gravitated more to district activities. Jones said since he was the only TFA at his school, at the time, he had no choice but to depend on the district staff. He said his friends, who were a part of TFA, had a more difficult time because they hung together.
Jones said because he had never worked as a teacher before and his district coworkers had, he was going to listen to them.
“If my colleagues told me to do X and TFA told me to do Y, I was going to do X, even if I thought X was wrong. Inverness is chocked full of veteran educators, who am I to tell them,” he said.
Murphy said they never viewed themselves as some type of savior.
“We didn’t even know what we didn’t know,” he said, and Jones concurred and added that he felt it was his job to help dispel the stigmas associated with TFA teachers.
He acknowledged that TFA got them here, but TFA was not in the classroom every day, which is why he relied on his colleagues.
The two maintain that the district has scores of good educators and students and that moving forward they are singularly focused on moving the district higher. They can see the work that is being done.
Murphy said the district is winning regardless of what the numerical scores reflect and they’re trying to get to a point where they are not concentrating on the district letter grade.
Jones added that they are trying to get the SCCSD to a point where they can just focus on winning.