What makes a kid who grew up in rural, eastern Pennsylvania interested in teaching in a city? That’s the question Don Murk ’79, professor of early childhood education asked himself more than 30 years ago as student at Messiah College. Murk, who was an early childhood and elementary education major, decided he wanted to complete his student teaching experience in an urban school and spent his student teaching semester at Downey Elementary School in the Harrisburg School District teaching kindergarten.
Murk isn’t sure why he felt that initial interest in city schools, but is certain since then, he has held a lifelong passion for educational reform in urban schools, and a specific interest in Downey Elementary School.
“Ever since that student teaching experience I’ve wanted to do something in Harrisburg,” says Murk.
Like many urban school districts, Harrisburg faces challenges every day. However, under the leadership of Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney, the district is making tremendous strides through a number of improvement initiatives, including the Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge and Leader in Me training.
The Together for Tomorrow initiative, a joint venture of the White House and the Corporation for National and Community Service, recognized Harrisburg School District and Messiah College for their community partnership last October. Murk’s primary responsibility in this initiative is supervising Messiah College education majors who are student teaching at Downey.
As a member of the Harrisburg Schools Foundation board, Murk has also developed a close relationship with Knight-Burney, and when she approached the board about bringing Leader in Me training to the district, Murk was excited to help.
“Dr. Knight-Burney suggested Downey before she heard my story about Downey,” said Murk. “For me, this was when I knew this was a partnership that was predestined.”
The Leader in Me is a school transformation model. Based on Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” The Leader in Me produces transformational results such as higher academic achievement, fewer discipline problems and increased engagement among teachers and parents.
Murk attended training with teachers and staff from Downey, who in turn, were able to begin the Leader in Me at Downey. This year, they are implementing one habit a week in each classroom and the teachers are excited to see the results.
“The exciting part [of Leader in Me] is that all of the teachers at Downey voted to do this program,” said Murk. “The goal is to make changes in your own life and then model it for others.”
There’s no doubt that Murk will continue to be involved with Downey Elementary for many years to come. He, along with the superintendent, teachers and other community partners, see nothing but potential for the students.
“My goal in all of this is to see kids in Harrisburg get an education that is as good as anyone gets anywhere else,” says Murk. “For too many years they have been cheated for one reason or another. These kids have the same potential as kids in other districts. It doesn’t matter that a high percentage of them live in poverty or that a high percentage of them come from single parent homes. You can look at that and say ‘these kids aren’t going to amount to anything’ or you can look at it and say ‘that’s true, they don’t have much… but we can give them a high quality education, we can educate them.’ That’s the exciting part for me.”
-Erin Bray ’10
Posted on November 15th, 2013