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Loyola celebrates the life of Peter Murrell, Ph.D., founding dean of the School of Education

| By Nick Alexopulos
Peter Murrell Loyola University Maryland
Peter Murrell, Ph.D., challenged everyone in his field to do more for urban education. "Nothing happens without authentic community," he told colleagues.

Peter C. Murrell, Jr., Ph.D., cared deeply about urban education, the unwavering focus of his lifelong work as an educator, scholar, and advocate.  

Murrell, the founding dean of Loyola University Maryland’s School of Education, died this week in Massachusetts. He was 63.

“Peter was a man of incredible strength and incredible conviction,” said Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Ph.D., associate professor of education at Loyola and close colleague of Murrell’s. “He was a real giant—a role model and a mentor. There was very, very little, if anything, that could stop him from giving to this field that he loved, from giving to his colleagues, from being a true professional.”

Murrell served as dean of the School of Education from 2008-11 and led its official launch in fall 2009, having shaped the school’s vision to address complex issues facing urban education to ensure all children have the right to a quality education. This vision established a foundation for the extensive opportunities for community engagement and collaboration afforded to Loyola undergraduate and graduate education students. Murrell was also a professor of urban education and an advisor to Loyola’s chapter of Urban Needs in Teacher Education, the first chapter on the east coast. 

In 2009, Murrell was instrumental in establishing Loyola’s Center for Innovation in Urban Education, an initiative that pursues collaborative research, innovative program development, and community engagement to bring positive change to education in Baltimore and other urban communities.

“As founding dean, Peter set the School of Education forward on a path that is consonant with Loyola’s mission at large, and he helped faculty and students see that work in urban schools and communities is, in his words, ‘the work,’” said Joshua Smith, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education. “His tireless dedication to Baltimore City Public Schools inspires us and challenges us to do more of ‘the work,’ and to do it better so more children can flourish. The faculty and I are honored to continue building upon his legacy in preparing future education leaders who live out our mission throughout their careers.”

Murrell’s commitment to urban education as both a leader and a pioneer was evident in his extraordinary service involvement. He was the cofounder of and senior associate for research and development at the Alliance for Community Teachers and Schools (ACTS), a Baltimore non-profit that fosters the emergence of community teachers and community schools with a focus on educational resiliency to produce the optimal conditions for child and adult development. With ACTS, Murrell started the Consortium for Urban Education to coordinate, generate, and facilitate partnerships between Baltimore-area institutions of higher education and Baltimore City Public Schools for the benefit of Baltimore’s children.

In addition, Murrell was actively engaged in the development of new models of teacher preparation and professional development as a member of national accreditation and teacher education associations.

“When Peter Murrell came to Loyola, he brought a vision for the School of Education to make a profound and lasting impact on urban education,” said Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola. “Through his scholarship, his teaching, and his deep commitment to enhancing education in schools throughout our country, he touched many, many lives—and he will continue to inspire many of our faculty, students, and alumni in the future.”

Murrell consulted with urban school districts in major cities across the country to develop systematic solutions to the challenges of elevating the quality of teaching and learning in diverse urban schools and communities. His research focused on the role of social identity in academic proficiency and intellectual development in learners as well as their teachers, and showed how to promote development of academic identity and racial/cultural identity in the varied social contexts in urban schools and communities. He authored several books and numerous articles and book chapters on the theory and practice of building culturally centered learning communities for teachers and students.

Prior to his work at Loyola, Murrell taught middle and high school in the Milwaukee Public Schools and was a college access program administrator at Marquette University. He then served as chair of the psychology department at Milwaukee Area Technical College, assistant professor of psychology and education Alverno College, and associate professor of education at Wheelock College and Northeastern University.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Carleton College, a master’s degree in cognitive psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in urban education and educational psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“To be a good teacher you have to acquire a deep understanding of human development in different social and cultural contexts, and to develop a capacity to bring out the best in every pupil, regardless of their current level of academic proficiency or school readiness,” Murrell said in an April 2009 Loyola magazine interview. “Teachers have to be able to appraise how well they operate in very complex and unfamiliar situations and be open to learning. They also need to continue to develop themselves as cultural learners, and endeavor to promote that capacity in their pupils as well as their colleagues.”

Murrell was born in 1952 in Cheyenne, Wyo., and lived with his wife Terry Meier, Ed.D., in Jamaica Plain, Mass. He is also survived by his daughter, Anya, stepson Peter, and two grandchildren.

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Memorial service:

Sunday, Nov. 8
1-4 p.m.
Wheelock College—Brookline Campus
43 Hawes Street
Brookline, Mass. 02215

In lieu flowers:

Please consider a donation to support the ongoing work of ACTS. Donations can be made two ways:

Online, at acts-alliance.org. Use the “Donate” button at the top-right and enter “Peter Murrell Remembrance” in the box labeled “Purpose.”

By check, made out to Alliance for Community Teachers and Schools. Mail checks to:

ACTS
4701 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Md. 21210

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