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Meet Murray Elementary School Difference Makers – Jennifer May and Mark Pelham

April 10, 2015
Murray Elementary School

Murray Elementary School

The focus of the Difference Maker series now turns to Murray Elementary School. Principal Carrie Nerheim quickly volunteered two individuals to spotlight for this feature. They are two of simply numerous individuals that are making a positive and significant difference in the lives of students and families at this school site. Several years ago, Murray might have been characterized as the smallest and most unique elementary site in the Dublin Unified School District and it housed the unique Pathways program. In 2015, it possesses many of the same characteristics, but it is also experiencing the same enrollment gains that are occurring across the district. And, with that, is managing the challenges of growth. Murray Elementary has benefitted from the infrastructure development opportunities due to Measure C. A new kindergarten complex has been constructing in the rear of the campus. Additionally, a new ingress/egress pathway has been opened which has added an immense improvement to facilitating movement at drop-off and release on a daily basis – in addition to providing much needed parking for staff and visitors.

Our profile focuses on two key parent volunteers. Their contributions to Murray share a commonality, yet are different at the same time. appreciated the opportunity to recently visit with both. It is no wonder that this site is referred to as “Magical Murray.”

Our first visit is with volunteer Jennifer May. She has a daughter (Sydney) at Wells Middle School and 3rd grader Ashley attends Murray. Jennifer attained her BA and MA in Anthropology from California State University Hayward. Upon graduation, she worked in Human Resources at Ameriprise Financial Services until 2010. Subsequently, she has completed all requirements necessary to become a Substitute teacher in DUSD. In the interim, Jennifer has assumed multiple volunteer roles at Murray Elementary School. We explore them now.  Like the other school sites, Murray is growing.  What mechanisms do you employ to ensure that all families are receiving PFC communications?

Difference Maker Jennifer May

Difference Maker Jennifer May

Jennifer May: “We have made it a priority to distribute flyers and information electronically to our families instead of using paper. We encourage all parents to sign up to receive PFC emails at registration, we have an advertisement posted on the marquis, and we use constant contact to send out our weekly newsletters and any additional emails. Constant contact allows people to forward them and then the new subscriber can add themselves to our list with a simple click. We make sure that our teachers and all staff are on the distribution of weekly newsletters so that they are informed of all upcoming events and can be involved or relay information home.” You also recently joined the School Site Council.  For those that may be unfamiliar, please describe the activities/responsibilities of the Murray SSC.

May: “The school site council is a group of parents and faculty that work together to put together a strategic plan to meet the needs of our students for the upcoming school year. This plan includes what the main academic goals or focus will be for the entire school and what steps will be taken to ensure that the goals are achieved. We strive to create a plan that has specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound goals. The plan also addresses what resources will be used to achieve these goals.”  As an active volunteer, how has this enriched your experience at Murray?

May: “Being able to volunteer at school the past five years has been a very rewarding experience for me. I feel so blessed to have the time to give back to Murray. I’ve been a room mom for several years for both girls and it’s so much fun to plan fun events for the kids. They really appreciate it and it makes me happy when they are having fun.

“I treasure the moments when I can help a student understand something, for example if I’m helping in math and I get a high five because they get it. I’ve volunteered in the library at Murray for four years and it’s very rewarding to help out Mrs. Pryor because she does so many extra things for the entire school that I enjoy giving her my time to take care of the mundane tasks so she can focus on bigger things.

“Last year, in Ashley’s second grade class, I helped out on Friday afternoons. During that time, the class did a gratitude circle. It was such a blessing to me when a student would say they were grateful for me or they would invite me into the gratitude circle. I love when a student runs up to me and says, ‘Hi, Mrs. May!’ and she gives me a big hug.”

Our second Murray profile centers on Mr. Mark Pelham. Mark is somewhat unique in that he and his wife are both employed by the San Ramon Unified School District. For 17 years, Mark has been working as a Science coach in the elementary school level in the vicinity of the Greenbrook area. His third grader and kinder are both enrolled at Murray Elementary. Mr. Pelham offers a rather unique perspective as a teacher and parent and we are thrilled to share both to our readers. You were one of the few select parents at Murray to participate in Professional Learning Community training.  Please share your experiences and what you took out of this training as it pertains to understanding PLC concepts and they might be applied.

Difference Maker Mark Pelham

Difference Maker Mark Pelham

Mark Pelham: “At first I was hesitant to take two days off to attend the workshop due to less than ideal experiences when my own district initial attempts to use the same model. It did give me the opportunity to see the staff working together across grade levels with their focus solely on student achievement. It wasn’t a concern about test scores and API but an attempt to determine the best manner in which to identify where students were at in their educational journey and the best ways to move them forward.

“At the same time my daughter’s kindergarten teacher was working on unwrapping Common Core standards and saw them not as a burden or more work but as an opportunity to improve her effectiveness in the classroom. So often in education I see people wearing down under the onslaught of new programs, something which I have occasionally been guilty of doing. I often thought of Murray as a little school with less staff resources than other schools but was able to view the district as a single organism that was working together to improve student success. Rather than the large district with many isolated schools I saw Dublin as a small but cohesive and flexible district. This feeling has been reinforced over time in my experiences with Carrie and the amount of work she does with her fellow elementary principals.” You have taken an active role in PFC events, including the Daddy Daughter dance and organizing a movie night.  This led to assuming a role as PFC Co-President.  As an officer, how has this changed your perception of now serving as one of many “caretakers” of the organization?

Pelham: “I was amazed how many school events have their genesis in the PFC, even activities that are not PFC related, are run by PFC members. The amount of work that occurs in the background is staggering, I just assumed things were in place from the previous year and you essentially showed up. We are actively trying to create resources that can be easily shared between different activities and from year to year. Each role on the board pretty much has a co-chair which seems to make the job more attractive

“I assumed that I would not be able to do much for the PFC since my school/work hours parallel those of Murray which is something we are trying to dispel. There are many opportunities for people to contribute but think that they have to be at every meeting and work every event. Our Halloween fun night worked because several dads came in and built a great haunted house which was a huge contribution to the event.

“Finding volunteers is difficult at every school but we do have a smaller pool of volunteers due to our size and a large number of students in DKA are coming from other school attendance areas. It is 10% doing 90% of the work as with most places but we are looking for new ways to get people involved, I am hoping we might even find another male to be on PFC. It is a fun group to work with and are very supportive of teachers that never say no to an idea that will benefit students.

“The best thing about this group is the number of no cost events that happen each year. We have our fund raisers throughout the year but the dances and movie nights are free. These are community building events that bring out families and are the best thing that we do.” You’re one of the fortunate ones to be onsite and in the classrooms on a semi-regular basis.  As a parent, please articulate how it makes you feel to have your children know that their father is an active and vital part of campus life?

Pelham: “It is a good example for my kids to see me active and involved and that I am part of their education. Julia is always very excited on the days that I come in and spreads the word among her classmates. I see both 3rd grade classes and not just hers and I know all the kids and enjoy working with them. On the days I drop Julia off I have to tell kid after kid that today is not a science day but I will be there soon.” Upon her arrival, Principal Nerheim has pronounced the site as “Magical Murray.”  For those that are unattached to the school, help us to understand why Murray Elementary is indeed magical.

Pelham: “I have never asked her about the Magical part but it has always been Magical Murray since we have been there. Part of it might go back to talk of closing the school and the fact that Murray is small and 50 years old next year. The amount of upgrades and beautification is pretty magical. The PFC started to raise money to beautify the front of the school with some new landscaping to match the new kindergarten buildings and “to make the outside as beautiful as the inside” in Ms. Nerheim’s words.

“The project was started by a parent whose mother is a landscape architect and was fairly simple; remove some older plants and add some drought resistant plants with some color. People donated money to pay for specific plants that would have their name on them and local businesses gave us deals on plants and soil. All was going well until things were put on hold temporarily. The district worried that the new plants would not survive with drought restrictions in effect. True to Magical Murray form, after several meetings the district steeped up to improve the project. Dublin Unified pulled out the old crabgrass in front, replaced it with new grass, and extended the recycled water lines to cover the front of the school, put in new cement borders around the plants and the cement for the Murray paw logo out front. A weekend of volunteer work planting was done in a day due to the number of volunteers and now the outside of the school matches what happens inside the school. That is Magical Murray. Ms. Nerheim could also sell refrigerators in the Antarctic.”

So, there you have it. Two separate parent volunteers from the same school site that share a similar philosophy. would like to like to praise the contributions by both Jennifer May and Mark Pelham for making a positive contribution to the daily operations at Murray Elementary School. No doubt, there are many others that are making a positive difference to this school. However, Jennifer and Mark are making it a “magical” experience for every student and family.


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