Cool Schools: Murphy High School

(Source: WPMI) Local15 Today highlighted Murphy High School as our Cool School of the Week!

This week Local15 Today highlighted Murphy High School as our Cool School of the Week! Katie Herrera visited her alma matter, where the campus is coming back to life bigger and better following the devastating tornado that ripped through the campus on Christmas Day 2012. Also, students are getting the opportunity to take real college classes from real professors at the University of Alabama through the UA Early College pilot program. And the Murphy High School Pep Band gave us a live performance full of Panther Pride!


When you step inside the UA Early College rooms on Murphy’s campus, it doesn’t look like your typical high school classroom. Couches, tables, and theater seating mimic a college atmosphere.

“We wanted it to look like college. Our student center looks much like any other student center you’d see at a college. It’s much more relaxed. Students work at their own pace and do their work, or don’t do their work, it’s up to them,” explained Gene Montgomery, Dean of Students for the Early College program.

Montgomery approached the University of Alabama two years ago to find a way to offer college courses to his high school students, with the hopes of easing the financial burden of a college education.

“Well I have a child of my own in college. And as a parent and an educator, and having to write those checks, I saw where the need was and it was very organic in its growth,” added Montgomery.

Students are able to enroll in any class offered at UA.

“I have taken Art History, Cultural Anthropology, English 101, and Computer Science,” explained Kelsie Willamor, a senior now in her second year of the program.

They use online lectures, tutorials and assignments, or they can even video conference directly with their professors in Tuscaloosa.

“I wasn’t sure about it at first. It was kind of overwhelming. It was really a big change. But my parents pushed me to do it, and now I love it. It’s awesome. You mature through the program, because you’re on your own a lot. You don’t have a teacher telling you to do things every day,” added Willamor.

Time management and responsibility may be the biggest college lessons these kids are learning, but they’re also earning up to 26 hours of college credits. Some students are entering college as almost a sophomore, complete with a Bama Student ID to prove it!

The students can take two UA courses a semester at no cost to them or the school system. The next phase of the pilot program is to have real professors on Murphy’s campus starting in January 2017.


For anyone associated with Murphy High School, the destruction from the Christmas Day tornado in 2012 was heartbreaking. The heart of the campus, the school’s auditorium, was ripped wide open.

“I remember coming to see there were no seats, just stripped bare, no ceiling or anything like that. So it was heartbreaking,” explained Joel Stevens, the Chorus teacher, whose program revolves around performing in the auditorium.

But now, the auditorium has come back to life. It was reopened earlier this year.

“They have brought it back to its original glory of 1926. With the aisle lights and they brought back the chandeliers designed from 1926, they gave us the integrity of the original structure, but they gave us best theater technology in town,” boasted Stevens.

The technology features a lightboard that can run a show on its own and a soundboard with studio-grade recording. Both bring new flare to complement the classics like the self-healing pine stage and rare orchestra pit that were salvaged after the storm.

“Students of all grade levels, 9-12, they might not run into each other anywhere else on campus. But here in the auditorium, they’ll be able to come in and experience all kids of school pride,” added Stevens.

Another area that was completely rebuilt is the band room. Amazingly, the instruments and even the music were saved from the wreckage.

“This library’s over 100 years old, but we didn’t lose any of it. Even the jazz band library which was sitting right under where the water was coming, we got it all back,” explained Stan Chapman, the band director.

The building is now bigger and better.

“The ceiling has all the special tiles that diffuse the sound, and the carpet, and the sound absorbent panels,” are just a few of the features according to Chapman.

A new second band room was added as well as a music theory classroom.

“It’s a true gift and a grant to the future students coming to Murphy. It’s a world class facility,” said Chapman.

Though it took several years to the facility back on its feet, the Murphy Band never missed a beat.

“It’s just hard to imagine how the kids could have been more mature about this, and the way they made Murphy look good. So everyone that’s an alumni should be proud of them,” added Chapman.