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Stonington High School Principal Stephen Murphy asks senior Collin Esquirol, 18, about his college plans on Monday. | Jill Connor / The Westerly Sun
Stonington High School principal Stephen Murphy asks senior Collin Esquirol, 18, about his college plans in the hallway on Monday. Murphy will be retiring after his 19th graduation ceremony on Thursday.  Jill Connor / The Westerly Sun Stonington Chemistry teacher Lisa Allen is surprised in her classroom on Monday with the announcement that she is the Stonington school district teacher of the year. He co-workers who sprung the surprise on her are, from left, are Stephen Murphy, assistant superintendent Nikki Gullickson, and former teacher of the year and music teacher Katrina Gottlieb. Jill Connor / The Westerly Sun

Murphy preps for last graduation after 19 years as top Bear

STONINGTON — Collin Esquirol recognizes what Principal Stephen Murphy means to Stonington High School and its past and present students.

Murphy implemented X-Block scheduling. He’s added more than 60 courses to the school’s program of studies. He’s increased opportunities for students to earn college credits.

But the man who will give his final address at commencement exercises Thursday evening never made more of an impact on students like Esquirol than when he would visit a classroom.

“It was just something to see him there, his presence,” said Esquirol, a senior who will graduate with the Class of 2014. “He’s done a lot for our school… he’s a major part of our school. Everybody looks up to Dr. Murphy. He was always so busy and had so much to do, so when he came into a classroom, it was an honor.”

The 64-year-old Murphy is retiring from the post he’s held for 19 years. This is his final week at SHS.

“I thought about it yesterday,” Murphy said Monday shortly after he and several others surprised SHS science teacher Lisa Allen with the district’s Teacher of the Year award. “On Sunday, there won’t be a Monday.”

Since he was named principal in 1996, Murphy’s accomplishments have been countless, from the grants he’s secured to establishing the high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame and overseeing the school’s multimillion dollar expansion and renovation project.

But among his favorite triumphs is watching students develop throughout their four years.

“When the kids come in as freshmen they’re not as serious, and then you begin to see that transition into, ‘I better kick it into high gear,’” he said. “You get to see all of those steps. We get to help chart the course.”

Part of the reason students are successful at SHS, Assistant Principal Mark Friese said, is because Murphy was a visionary during his tenure.

“He is always one step ahead of the state initiatives, which has allowed Stonington High School to be on the cutting edge in education,” said Friese, who will replace Murphy in July. “His legacy at Stonington High is the staff. We have outstanding teachers in this school who are committed to student success. Much of that is due to Dr. Murphy’s leadership and guidance.”

Murphy, who grew up in Providence, will spend some of his retirement teaching at the college level. He will instruct at the University of Saint Joseph in Hartford and at Southern Connecticut State University.

But he has to get through his high school’s graduation first.

“It will be hard,” he said. “There’s a sense of pride being a Stonington Bear. I’m not a native of the system, but I think I’ve earned the right to be a Stonington Bear, just like these students have earned the right having gone to Stonington Public Schools for 13 years.”

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