Students and staff at Dorchester’s Richard J. Murphy school will begin the academic year next week with a new leader after principal Karen Cahill was put on paid administrative leave this summer by the Boston Public Schools. Courtney Sheppeck, a sixth-grade teacher at the Murphy since 2001, will replace her as interim principal, the department said.
The details surrounding Cahill’s departure from one of the school system’s schools are still unclear. “Because this involves a confidential personnel matter, we cannot comment on the particular circumstances in this case,” BPS spokesman Lee McGuire told the Reporter in an email. We are focused on ensuring a great start to the school year for students, families, and staff at the Murphy.”
John P. McDonough, BPS interim superintendent, acknowledged that the “news is unexpected.” No further explanation was given in a letter sent to Murphy parents, teachers, and staff on Aug. 15.
“Timing wise, I think a lot of parents were surprised by the news,” said Julie Garvey, a former librarian at the Murphy whose four children attended the K-8 school, one of whom just graduated. “The letter was very vague. You have to read between the lines for the information that it’s lacking.”
The BPS notification letter marked the first indication to members of the Murphy community that Cahill had been placed on leave. Some at the Murphy have expressed concern over Sheppeck’s selection, questioning the process by which she was selected as well as her qualifications for the position. These individuals would not comment on the record out of fear of retribution for speaking out.
Sheppeck, who has three children in the school system, has her certification to become a principal pending with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE. “This is a normal step for a newly named interim principal, and DESE has given us guidance that it is in line with expectations,” McGuire said.
“Superintendent McDonough believes Mrs. Sheppeck is a strong choice to lead the school in the interim,” McGuire said. “She has been a teacher leader at the school since 2001, has been a chair of the Instructional Leadership Team, a member of the School Site Council, and a PTO member of her own child’s elementary school in Boston. She deeply understands the history of Murphy School and is uniquely qualified to leverage the strengths of the school while also pushing areas for improvement.”
Cahill was promoted to principal at the Worrell Street school in 2010 and was described that year in a Reporter profile as “no-nonsense” and “fun.” She said she sought to bring back the momentum the school had lost by having two principals in the two years following the departure of long-time acclaimed principal Mary Russo to take a job with the newly formed Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy.
Cahill has deferred media inquiries to her lawyer, Howard Lenow, who had no comment beyond saying the matter is under review.