Washougal schools leader leaving to be closer to family business

WSD Assistant Superintendent Renae McMurray has accepted a superintendent position in Wisconsin

Chris and Renae McMurray knew that they’d have to spend some time apart in order to achieve their career goals when they purchased an outdoor outfitter company in northern Wisconsin in 2019. Chris moved to the Badger State to run the business while Renae stayed behind in Washougal and continued to serve in her role as assistant superintendent for the Washougal School District.

The long-distance aspect of their relationship came to an end, however, after Renae accepted a superintendent/principal position for the Mercer School District in Mercer, Wisconsin, last month.

“We thought that it would probably be a couple more years (for me to get a job here) because it’s such a small area,” she said. “We weren’t necessarily anticipating something to come open that was so close to where we have the business, but it turns out this (job) opened up, and it’s about 10 minutes away. I said, ‘I don’t think I can’t apply for this. This is perfect.’ … It was just meant to be.”

The Mercer School District announced in a press release earlier this month that it selected McMurray for the dual role after a “rigourous search.”

“(She) embodies the essential qualities for its next leader — vision, commitment, energy, and genuine passion for serving our students,” according to a news release, which lauded her “extensive experience in education as a teacher, instructional coach, and administrator.”

The district operates a single K-12 school with about 125 students.

“This is the smallest district that I’ve worked for,” McMurray said. “I like the idea of working in a smaller school district where I’ll get to interact with the students and the community more. I’ll be combining the superintendent and principal (roles), so it will be great to be closer to the action. I’ll be able to interact with all of the families and live in the same community where I’m working. I’ll get to know every student by name, so that will be exciting.”

Although she’s happy to once again be living with her husband and is looking forward to her new job, McMurray said the decision to leave Washougal “didn’t come without its pain points.”

“(My time in Washougal) was very positive,” she said. “This was a hard decision to make. If it weren’t for being able to live in the same time zone as my husband, I wouldn’t have left Washougal — it’s a challenge living in two different time zones.

“I’ve really loved my time in Washougal there and the staff there and the leadership there,” she continued. “We’ve accomplished a lot. It’s been an awesome experience. There’s part of me that’s mourning the loss there, because I did have a great team and we accomplished a lot and I’ve been really proud of the work that we’ve done. That’s hard to leave.”

McMurray will continue to support the Washougal School District remotely as it works through “the transition process,” according to Les Brown, the district’s director of communications and technology.

“The move is a great one for her personally and professionally, and we are very excited for her and her family,” Brown said. “I’m confident that she will continue her excellent work building programs and services that support students. Renae has been an important part of the team here in Washougal, listening to the needs of the community, and building programs like our dual language program, our transitional kindergarten, and the Washougal Learning Academy to serve students.”

McMurray came to the Washougal School District in 2016 and served as principal at Gause Elementary School for two years before being named as assistant superintendent in 2018.

Previously, she worked as a teacher at the elementary and middle school levels, an instructional coach, a K-8 principal, a curriculum coordinator, a special education director, and an AVID district director in California.

She received the Washington Association of School Administrators’ (WASA) Robert J. Handy Award, which recognizes the contributions of outstanding Washington public school administrators, at the WASA/Association of Washington School Principals Summer Conference in Spokane, Washington, on June 27.

“Renae has been instrumental to the great success we’ve seen during my time here,” Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “I’m confident Renae will bring the same success to her new district, and we’re very excited for her new position. I’m so incredibly thankful for the work she led in Washougal, which is a big part of why Washougal is rising.”

The McMurrays’ business, River’s Edge Lodge and Outfitters, located in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, provides outfitting for a variety of outdoor activities, including canoeing, kayaking, biking, tubing, rafting, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and camping.

“Chris has ties to this area,” said Renae, speaking to the Post-Record from the playground of her new school. “His grandfather built a cabin on a lake here back in the 1930s. We’d come here for vacation and stay on the lake and fish and canoe and that kind of thing. During the past three years, I traveled back and forth whenever I had vacation time, but this will be much nicer because I can support (the business) on the weekends and busy times here but also live in the same household (with my husband).”