2019 Arlington School Board

Members of the Arlington School Board. From left: Monique O’Grady, Reid Goldstein, Barbara Kanninen, Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren.

The Arlington School Board’s search for a new superintendent will continue to move at its own pace and not be rushed, School Board Chairman Tannia Talento says.

“Our goal is to find a highly qualified leader who will sustain our positive culture of learning,” Talento said in prepared remarks opening the July 25 School Board meeting.

The new superintendent will “carry forward our mission and build on our strengths,” Talento said.

Though billed as an update, the timetable laid out by school officials on July 25 was the same that had been enunciated earlier in the month:

• An interim superintendent will be appointed by Sept. 3, the start of the school year.

• A search firm will be selected by “early fall” to recruit and vet candidates.

• The search itself could take several months, with the interim superintendent being asked to “provide stability” during any transition period.

Talento, who on July 1 succeeded Reid Goldstein as board chair, promised that input from staff, families and the community will be encouraged as school leaders work to find a successor to Patrick Murphy, who announced in June he was leaving in September to take the superintendent’s post in Berkeley County, W.Va.

How much of a role input from the community will play in selection of a new superintendent remains to be seen. In past superintendent searches, Arlington School Board members have not followed the lead of many school districts across the nation and provided the public the chance to meet with finalists for the position before one is selected – or even publicly named the finalists.

Murphy recently passed the 10-year mark of his tenure, a relatively long time for a superintendent nationally. He had been recruited from neighboring Fairfax County in 2009 to succeed Robert Smith, whose tenure also had lasted more than a decade.

In 2015, Murphy was a finalist for national superintendent of the year, but his relationship with current School Board members at times has been strained, both behind the scenes and on the board dais, relating both to management style and how to spend taxpayer dollars.

Two years ago, Murphy won a four-year contract extension, but only on a 3-2 vote that seemed to be orchestrated to give him a qualified vote of confidence while allowing a number of board members to express their dissatisfaction.

Murphy, who took the reins of the school system during a period of fiscal austerity – at least by Arlington standards – remained a numbers guy at heart during his decade at the helm. He often pushed back as current School Board members allowed construction projects to grow beyond their budgets.

Among School Board members, only Goldstein seemed to share his view that dollars spent excessively on current projects are dollars that would not be available for future ones as the school system continues to grow. Other School Board members seem to be betting – so far correctly – that the County Board will cave under public pressure and provide dollars to fund a school system that long has had the highest per-student cost in the Washington suburbs, even if it means tax increases and curbing growth in other parts of local government to do so.

Murphy will leave behind no obvious successor within the ranks of the school leadership, so the next superintendent could be an outsider, just as he and Smith were.

Murphy already has been sworn in as superintendent in Berkeley County – about 50 miles northwest of Arlington – and will start in the post on Sept. 1. He has one more School Board meeting before his departure.

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