2024 Murray Foundation Chair for Teaching Excellence: Laurel Webster

June 18, 2024

When asked to describe our 2024 Murray Foundation Chair for Teaching Excellence, Laurel Webster, the following words come to mind: connector, communicator, vibrant, community-builder, selfless, and understanding. Since her appointment in 2005, Laurel has been a pillar of the Charles Wright Academy community. She has served in many different roles at CWA, including Interim Upper School Director, Dean of Faculty, and Dean of Students. She is highly involved in student life at CWA and is always present for her students. 


Colleagues across divisions highlight Laurel’s devotion to the student experience, see below what faculty and staff on the selection committee had to say about Laurel: 


“I’ve worked closely with Laurel since she arrived at CWA and can attest to her professionalism and her obvious care for students. She is a dedicated educator who has served CWA enthusiastically and is an integral part of the community. She served as Interim Upper School Director for a year, has been the faculty advisor for many student clubs, and has served on many Upper School committees. You can frequently find her at Upper School sporting events or performances, often as a volunteer helping out with scoring or timing.”


“In her 20+ years at CWA, Laurel has been an extremely effective teacher, making every student feel seen and heard. Her classes are engaging for students of various abilities with a great combination of technology and old-school board work. She has been a teacher, department chair, grade-level dean, Dean of Students, Dean of Faculty, and served as Interim Director of the Upper School. At every turn, where the community has needed her, she is there to help run the community. She has selflessly given her time chaperoning dances, leading outdoor education and overseas trips, organizing and administering every home track meet for decades, and doing all the little things required to make the community a vibrant, active place. Her advisory is a perfect example of how to build relationships with students. They can come to her with any problem, issue, or concern and know that they will get a listening ear, a consoling shoulder, and a keen understanding of the human psyche. She is a sought-after mentor for faculty and someone in the community that parents seek out with questions or guidance. She is an incredible friend, a loyal employee, and someone I consider to be a pillar of the institution.”


“I’ve stepped into Laurel’s classroom many times over the years and I’ve always been in awe of the classroom dynamic she maintains. Her engagement with students is incredibly poised and always invitational. Even when students travel an incorrect path of reasoning, Laurel’s questions in reply coax the thinking…and nudge students toward reflection and reevaluation. What so quickly stood out (and stands out) to me is that Laurel makes her classroom a sanctuary in which mistakes are expected, welcome, part of the learning process, and free from judgment.”


Head of School Susan Rice noted, “Frankly, I was surprised Laurel had not won this award previously, given her history of excellence in the classroom and continued significant contributions to the community.” 


For many years the Murray Pacific Corporation and the Murray Foundation have been leaders in the Pacific Northwest timber industry and in the Tacoma community. Members of the Murray family have also played an important role in the growth and success of Charles Wright Academy as students, graduates, parents, and members of the Board of Trustees. In 1992, the family established the Murray Foundation Chair for Teaching Excellence, commonly known as the Murray Chair. 


The Murray Chair honors a faculty member in any discipline, at any level, who has taught at Charles Wright Academy for a minimum of three years. The Chair is awarded on the basis of the following personal and professional qualities: 


  • Teaching effectiveness, creativity, objectivity;

  • Meritorious service to CWA;

  • Demonstrated ability to make significant contributions beyond the classroom; attempting to make the entire school, the community, and the world a better place.


Previous Murray Chair Recipients:

Danny Millar 1992 – 1995

Ann Botkin 1995 – 1996

Stephanie Glenn 1997 – 2000

Susan Mihata 2000 – 2003

Judy Herrington 2003 – 2006 

Brynn Starr 2006 – 2009

Wes Westby 2009 – 2012

Tyler Francis 2012 – 2015

Sam Harris 2015 – 2018 

Carie Olsen Ward 2018 – 2021

David Kangas 2021 – 2024