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Thomas Jefferson hires new principal

| Friday, June 8, 2018, 2:06 p.m.
Pete Murphy has been hired as the new principal at Thomas Jefferson High School.

West Jefferson Hills board members have hired longtime Gateway High School Principal Pete Murphy to lead Thomas Jefferson High School into a new era.

Murphy, 46, of Peters Township, will assume the role as building principal at Thomas Jefferson High School no later than Aug. 6. He will earn an annual salary of $118,500.

“He brings a lot of the characteristics that we're looking for in terms of leadership and a strategic vision and experience,” board President Brian Fernandes said.

The West Jefferson Hills School District is set to open a new $95 million Thomas Jefferson High School during the 2018-19 school year on a 161-acre property on Old Clairton Road. The start date at the new school is still undetermined, as construction delays linger.

“We're at a crossroads right now with a new building and some new curriculum that's going to be coming and we need to have a leader like Mr. Murphy who can come in and just take the reins and go,” Fernandes said.

Murphy began his career as a teacher and assistant principal in the New Brighton Area School District.

He was hired as the assistant principal at Gateway High School in 2007 and has worked as the high school principal for the last four years.

“It's a great fit,” Murphy said of the move to West Jefferson Hills. “You always try to improve upon where you've been and what you've done. I think the opportunity to come in to a brand new high school, it's exciting.”

Murphy, who received his undergraduate degree from Edinboro University and principal's certification from the University of Pittsburgh, said his focus at Thomas Jefferson will be on student success.

About 40 candidates applied for the job, including many current principals, Superintendent Michael Ghilani said.

Following a first round of interviews with administrators and school personnel, the final four candidates participated in a “gauntlet style” round of interviews, where teachers and students had the opportunity to ask questions.

That eliminated some candidates.

“If you can't interact with our kids, then we probably don't want you working in our district,” Ghilani said.

Through that, Murphy stood out, students said.

Grace Nwabuogu, 15, a freshman at Thomas Jefferson, said she liked that Murphy said he won't just focus on one group of students.

Some students aren't always happy at school, she said. And he gets that.

“I think he's going to bring fast change and good change,” junior Julia Fiedor, 17, said. “He seems very willing to give students a voice.”

For Molly Dixon, 15, a freshman, what stood out about Murphy was that he seems to value students opinions.

“He seems like a very accessible person and like that he will be a good leader for this high school and bring the change necessary,” Dixon said.

Xsavieor Rodriguez, 18, a junior, said he liked when Murphy talked about how he handle bomb threats and other threats to security.

“These days, today, I like that he knows how to handle these things, because you need to know that your principal knows what to do,” he said.

West Jefferson Hills will have an armed police officer in all five of its schools starting in 2018-19.

Murphy said he will utilize his knowledge from Gateway, where they hired a school police force.

“Security is very important. You want to make sure the kids feel safe going to school. Everything else goes from there,” he said.

Stephanie Hacke is aTribune-Review contributor.

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