I’ll always remember when I was a new mother in Evanston – before my kids entered District 65 – listening to the moms with older kids “in the system.”
“Can you believe they chose Hardy Murphy?” they’d say.
I had no idea who Hardy was. I was naïve, impressionable, and curious.
“He’s got his own agenda,” they’d say, rolling their eyes.
Since there are two sides to every story, I kept my mouth shut. All I knew was, his reputation was, at the very least, polarizing.
The first time I saw him, he presided over a chess tournament at the Joseph E. Hill Center. He commanded the room. His suit and tie struck me as impressive. It’s a Saturday, and this guy takes his job seriously, I thought. He spoke to the crowd with the confidence of a seasoned politician running for office. Everyone seemed to revere him in an infectious way. He spoke slowly in a deep, southern lilt, and he had me at “Good afternoon.”
But then, he lost me when he tried to sneak in a raise one summer, when most of Evanston wasn't paying attention. It felt manipulative and self-serving.
As a parent, I wanted a superintendent who lived and breathed Evanston. I wanted someone who was as real and flawed and open as the rest of us, but what I came to see was a man who lived in his armor of that suit and tie – even when he came to Washington Elementary School's garden day -- posing for multiple photo ops. Where were the genuine conversations with students? Where was the connection with the teachers and staff?
The nail in the coffin for me happened in June 2012, when he presided over the Nichols 8th grade graduation ceremony at Evanston Township High School. My oldest child was graduating. It was a HUGE deal. HUGE. We were in this mammoth auditorium at ETHS, far bigger than anything in any District 65 school. Dr. Murphy gave a brief, uninspired speech about something no one remembers, then promptly left before the graduates received their diplomas. I was shocked. I would have expected the superintendent to usher these students out of his district with a handshake or -- at the very least -- the courtesy of attending their graduation. While I understand there are several middle school graduations to attend in Evanston, it's a significant milestone for graduates and their families. His departure during the ceremony was glaring and offensive.
While I wanted an approachable superintendent, I wasn’t necessarily hoping for a torn-blue-jeans-and-scruffy-faced superintendent. I just wanted someone who’d remind the community how lucky we are to live among such diverse cultures…someone who’d unite our educational leaders and inspire our teachers and administrators.
What I found, however, was a superintendent I never really knew beyond the suit and tie. What I heard were constant rumors that Hardy Murphy had his own agenda…that he’d sneak in raises when no one was looking...that if you crossed him you'd be sorry…that he was purely politician.
I wish I would have known what his motives were…what his dreams for all students were…who he was as a person...the human side of the leader.
At one point in my own life, I prided myself on wearing fancy clothes to work. I'd put on airs and try to impress the world, making sure I looked like I had it all together. I used to take the time to put on makeup everyday. Back in those days, I spent a lot of energy focused on what everyone thought of me.
Then I moved to Evanston...and became a real person.I can only hope our school board finds someone to replace Hardy Murphy whose focus is clearly on our students and their future.
No jacket required.