Waukesha STEM Academy names new principal

Published on: 5/22/2013

For the third straight year, students at Waukesha STEM Academy's Saratoga Campus — the middle school — will have a new principal leading the way.

But like its last principal, it will be one who knows STEM's curriculum.

James Murray, named the new principal at its last School Board meeting a couple weeks ago, has been at STEM Academy since the charter school opened in 2010.

He taught fifth grade in the school's inaugural year before serving as an instructional leader the last two years.

"It's an exciting time of my life and (I) am on top of the educational wave," Murray said.

Murray replaces Mike Leach, who came to the Waukesha School District at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year after previously serving as a principal in the Wauwatosa School District, including at its STEM school.

Leach had replaced Ryan Krohn, who was promoted to the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction/educational accountability after the 2011-12 school year.

Waukesha Superintendent Todd Gray said STEM's principal's position was vacant after Leach informed the district that he is interested in some other internal positions, possibly working with middle school students.

Murray has been in the district for nine years having taught at White Rock Elementary School, which closed last year. He previously taught in the Delavan-Darien School District.

"He's done a tremendous amount of work in developing the school by training the teachers and monitoring the programs' effectiveness," Krohn said.

While the STEM school has only been around for a few years, Murray said he's already seen it evolve.

"The first year it was all about the what," Murray said. "What is our curriculum going to look like? The second year was the how. How can we facilitate to the students and this year has been about transitioning to keeping the concept of anytime learning with more flexibility. STEM 4.0 next year will be focusing on advancing past mastery."

He said his experiences of having taught in the White Rock bilingual school helped him see students of different languages and backgrounds and understand that instructors should embrace the fact that not every student is at the same level.

"Everyone looks at education differently, so our biggest goal is have education relevant to student life," Murray said. "It's a continuation of advancing when one has mastered to have students learn based on their readiness.

"We're trying to offer students different ways to learn whether it's peer-to-peer, in a large group instruction or through online. For us with the students it's not just about consuming but having them produce. It's a big learning journey and moving education forward to build on the unique foundation we have (at STEM)."

Murray is the most recent new principal hire within the district. Melissa Yow (Bethesda Elementary School) and Mary Garcia-Velez (Banting Elementary School) were formally introduced at last month's School Board meeting.

At the high school level, Waukesha West's interim principal David LaBorde was named the permanent principal there and Brian Schlei has been promoted from a teacher to athletic director/assistant principal at Waukesha North. He's replacing Mitch Weber, who is retiring after being with the district for 20 years.