Arlington Superintendent Patrick Murphy

Arlington Superintendent Patrick Murphy.

Ten years after he arrived from neighboring Fairfax County, Arlington Superintendent Patrick Murphy has announced plans to retire, effective with the start of the 2019-20 school year, county school officials said June 14.

“I realize that I have come to a crossroad in my professional journey and believe that it is time for me to make a transition,” Murphy said in a letter to School Board members. His last day is set for Sept. 3.

Murphy was tapped to lead the school system in July 2009, succeeding Robert Smith. His decade at the helm won him both fans and critics locally. At the national level, he in 2015 was a finalist for national superintendent of the year.

“Public education represents a critical responsibility for every community, because in the end, it is the true pathway to the ‘American Dream,’” Murphy said in his letter to School Board members. “We know that when children receive the right encouragement, environment and resources to learn, they will achieve.”

When he was appointed in the spring of 2009, Murphy had spent nearly all of a 20-plus year career with Fairfax County Public Schools, rising to become assistant superintendent for accountability, where he was responsible for testing, research and strategic planning.

His subsequent decade in Arlington – where Murphy has resided since 2004 – proved him to be a numbers guy. His glad-handing skills were minimal, and the superintendent was known to push back against School Board members (individually and collectively) at times. Two years ago, Murphy won a four-year contract extension, but only on a 3-2 vote.

But in his letter announcing the pending departure, Murphy said he had worked closely with the 13 School Board members who had come and gone during his tenure.

“All of the Arlington School Board members have believed as I do in the value of public education and how it is a paramount to the fabric of our community and our nation,” he said.

When he arrived to lead the Arlington school system, it had 19,000 residents. Now it has more than 27,000, and over the past decade the school system has embarked on a building spree in an effort to catch up.

The start of the tenure of Murphy in 2009 was marked by the economic downturn, which caused the Arlington school system to tighten its financial belt somewhat, although the school system never fell out of the top ranking in regional per-student spending. In recent years, spending has again risen, and is slated this coming school year to stand at $20,000 per student, a record for the region.

School Board members said they would conduct a national search for a successor. Ten years ago, about 60 candidates were considered for the position, some from as far away as Texas and Arizona.

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