Susan Murphy will step down as the Lower Kuskokwim School District’s board chair this month. Murphy served on the board for 12 years, and will be replaced by newly elected City Councilman Raymond “Thor” Williams. KYUK sat down with Murphy in her home last week.
When Murphy was just five years old, she, her mother, father, and siblings moved to Bethel.
“We’re one the of families that pretty much settled here in the 1940s,” said Murphy. “I pretty much am a Bethel, Lower Kuskokwim person.”
Both her parents were teachers. Prior to moving to Bethel, Murphy had only lived in the villages. Her father was from the lower 48 and her mother's family was from Akiak. Her parents both taught in Tununak during World War II before her father was drafted.
“He came back to Bethel and they found out he had a wife and three kids, instead of just a wife, so I guess they undrafted him,” said Murphy. “The BIA wanted to send him to Hooper Bay then, but he had three children who were scared of white people, and since he was white he decided it was a good idea to stay in Bethel so we’d get used to the fact that we were half-white.”
Over the years Murphy’s connection to education and her dedication to the region grew. She married Kevin Murphy, a teacher who moved up to Bethel in the 1960s, and together they have raised their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in the Lower Kuskokwim School District.
In 1979, Murphy started work at LKSD as a Public Information Officer, then moved on to become the Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, a role she held for 20 years.
In 1999, Murphy retired and served on several LKSD committees before running for the board, most recently serving as its Chair. In her time on the board, its many accomplishments included bringing bilingual education to the District.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we are a bilingual school district,” said Murphy. “That we celebrate our bilingualism and our Yup’ik culture and we also celebrate other cultures.”
The fact that here in the heart of Yup’ik country, says Murphy, that there is a dedication to teaching Yugtun along with English is groundbreaking.
“The kids will graduate knowing who they are, and having a background in both English and in Yugtun,” said Murphy.
Murphy says that incoming board members are sure to be facing a host of challenges that have only increased since alcohol sales have become legal in Bethel.
“The fact that choices are made where students may not get a proper diet, may not get support at home to get up and eat breakfast and go to school, I think the selling of legal alcohol has made a real impact on our schools,” said Murphy. “I think we have excellent teachers and excellent administrators, but they cannot do it alone.”
Murphy says that the key is parental involvement, and that it’s the board's job to be able to listen.
“Remember that there are always two sides to every question, and sometimes the side you think is right isn’t right so you really need to listen to when there is a controversy,” said Murphy.
Which is why, Murphy says, serving on the board takes time. Time she wasn’t sure she could commit to with the same dedication that she has had in the past.
“If you’re sitting on the school board it needs to take priority because the decisions you make affect 4,000 children in the district, and all the employees, so be well informed,” said Murphy.
The next school board meeting will be Murphy’s last before stepping down.