Next Arlington Schools Chief Already Part of the Community

Patrick K. Murphy is currently with the Fairfax County school system.
Patrick K. Murphy is currently with the Fairfax County school system. (Richard A. Lipski - The Washington Post)
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By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2009

After a nationwide search that yielded applications from as far as Texas, the Arlington County School Board found its next superintendent in its own back yard.

The board announced yesterday that Patrick K. Murphy, an Arlington resident and Fairfax County schools official, will lead the 19,500-student school system.

Murphy, 50, assistant superintendent of the Department of Accountability for Fairfax public schools, has agreed to a four-year contract with an annual salary of $195,000. He emerged as the top candidate among about 60 applicants, six of whom were interviewed.

"What set him apart is he's done everything," School Board member Libby Garvey said. "He has the complete résumé."

School Board Vice Chairman Sally Baird said that throughout Murphy's career, he has led through collaboration and building relationships.

"It is clear to the board that Dr. Murphy is the leader that Arlington needs now," she said.

Murphy, who was introduced at an afternoon news conference, has been an educator for 21 years, the past 19 in Fairfax. He and his wife moved to Arlington four years ago. He said he was drawn to the job in part because of Arlington's excellent reputation locally and nationally.

"The educational vision and goals of the school division are matched with mine," he said.

He spoke of continuing the work of closing the achievement gap between minority and white students. He also acknowledged the challenges he will face at a time when school systems across the region are struggling with tightening budgets.

"While we must be strategic in our thinking and planning, I think we need to remain agile and also dynamic in how we act," Murphy said. "It's important that we remember our cargo is precious and our time is noted in years, not decades, in order to make a difference in the life of every child."

Murphy will begin July 1. The current superintendent, Robert G. Smith, said in September that he would step down at the end of the school year, capping 12 years in Arlington. He will join the faculty of George Mason University this fall as an associate professor of education in the College of Education and Human Development.

Smith, a public school educator for 44 years, started in Arlington in 1997 after working in Frederick and Houston. Under his leadership, Arlington has built a new school, replaced or rebuilt six and significantly renovated 19. Achievement has also risen for all student groups, with the gap between white students and Hispanic and African American students on standardized tests narrowing by more than 50 percent.

Smith described Murphy as a "great fit" for the county. "I think he recognizes the strengths here," he said.

Still, Smith said, the new superintendent will have to address an achievement gap whose progress has stalled in recent years. Murphy also enters the schools job at a time of squeezed budgets and increasing enrollment.

Smith proposed a $431.8 million budget in February that is 2.8 percent less than the current level of $444.4 million and represents the first instance of lower spending during his tenure.

Officials project that enrollment will rise by several hundred this fall, topping 20,000.

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