ALAMEDA -- After 11 years of teaching third-graders at Corpus Christi School in Piedmont, Jessica Murray began this school year as the new principal at St. Philip Neri School in Alameda. It's a big step up for the Bay Area native and mother of two children who lives in Albany.

"This is such a fantastic community of people. We have faculty members who have been teaching here for 13 years, for 20 years. It's a strong, caring community," Murray said. "I'm so glad I was given such a wonderful opportunity to work at this great school."

Murray graduated with a bachelor's degree from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in business administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco before working as a trade consultant specializing in Latin America. She switched to teaching around the time she and husband Ed decided to start a family.

"Our school motto this year is educating respectful, responsible and reverent lifelong learners," she said. "And we blend that focus in with 21st century-focus goals like collaboration, critical thinking and creativity."

St. Philip Neri has 230 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school's one-word theme for the 2013-2014 academic year, Murray added, is "hope."

"We will strive to do this by teaching the students the importance of honoring the one present in each other. It's what we will explore with the kids and what will guide our teaching," Murray said.

While teaching at Corpus Christi, Murray's third-grade students showed her how much they honored and appreciated her work by giving her plastic rubber ducks decorated with different hats and outfits. She has 365 of the colorful toys sitting on shelves near her desk.


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"I have received two more since I came to the school," she said. "They are gifts of love, so I'm glad to have them on display. It reminds me of how much I love being around and working with kids."

Murray's two daughters, Hannah and Sadie, attend Albany High School.

"They came by St. Philip Neri this summer and were very excited to see where I'm working. Of course, it's different from their high school environment," she explained.

Teaching in the Catholic educational system, Murray said, gives her the chance "to educate the whole child -- academically, socially and spiritually -- in a strong partnership with the community. That's what I love."

Murray meets regularly with school and church staff, including Father Joy Kumarthusseril.

"We were in search of great leadership, which, for any school, is fundamental," the pastor said. "Educational and spiritual guidance are so important for a Catholic school. Jessica is the best fit for that role here. That's not just my opinion; the whole community is glad about our choice."