Open Forum: ‘Incredible journey’

Posted: October 29, 2013

I will always remember the evening of June 12, 2008 . . .

Marie and I, along with School Board Chairman Robina Rich Bouffault and Interim Superintendent John Taylor, had just finished dinner and dessert at V2 in Winchester. Robina reached into her purse, presented me with an envelope, and asked that I consider becoming the next superintendent of the Clarke County Public Schools. She was more than ecstatic, and I was honored, humbled, and, to be honest, just a little bit surprised.

Looking back, it has been an incredible journey. For last five-plus years, I have been blessed to have worked with some of the most outstanding individuals in the field of public education. They are passionate, caring, and want the best for each and every student. They are administrators, teachers, technologists, instructional assistants, bus drivers, custodians, secretaries and office managers.

There are countless others who, while unnamed this evening, provide the leadership and support to help Clarke County Public Schools be one of the best-kept secrets in the Commonwealth. Together, with the help of great parents and guardians, they have nurtured and supported the children of this community, built technology networks and schools, and ensured that each and every student has had the best possible education they could provide. Their list of accomplishments is beyond reproach; I commend each and every one of them for their service.

Their voices may be quiet, but their hearts are big and full of hope, energy, and enthusiasm. They are my champions. They are the 99 percent. And they are the true leaders of Clarke County.

I would also like to take a moment to thank Janet Creager Alger and Barbara P. Lee for their steadfast support and encouragement. Janet is the only sitting School Board member from the board that hired me, and Barbara joined soon after. Thank you both for your unwavering leadership, service, and support.

As we go forward into November and start the Fiscal Year 2015 budget process, I would like to again share with our community that we are one of only 36 school divisions in the Commonwealth fully accredited; that we are proud of our 97.3 percent on time graduation rate, and that 75 percent of our high-school graduates received an advanced diploma. We offer International Baccalaureate and academic, athletic, music and arts programs that are second to none. We support a host of expanded opportunities for students of all ages, and our applied behavior analysis program serves as a model for the Commonwealth. Yes, we certainly have a lot to be proud of, and this is just the short list . . .

I would also like to share with our community that despite Clarke County’s substantial ability to pay for public education, we are woefully underfunded and have been for years. The fiscal and philosophical challenges we face today are the same ones that Eleanor Smalley, Dennis Kellison, and Wade Johnson also faced. I have talked to each of them, and each has shared that, in one way or another, not much has changed in the last 45 years. It is time to view the education of our children as an investment, not as a burden.

I believe that a community conversation about what is really important to the citizens of Clarke is long overdue. How we pay for and provide services to the young, the disabled, the elderly and everyone in between is essential for the future. And whether we like it or not, it should be a conversation about family wage jobs, affordable housing, economic development, and the creation of a sustainable future, both on and off the farm. It is time to educate, engage, and evolve like never before. This conversation is long overdue, and won’t happen unless we talk about it.

I would also like to remind the residents of Berryville that the Nov. 5 School Board election is not about Mike Murphy. It is about electing a leader who will model the values of honesty, integrity, and respect and who will put the needs of children, all children, before the needs of the plutocracy.

As you can imagine, after serving for five-plus years in “the hot seat,” the stories are many, and most of them are not only unbelievable, but true. Serving in a community where some consider the education of our children a burden has indeed been a challenge.

But despite the challenges, the anonymous bloggers, and those who hide behind their keyboards twisting the truth with every stroke, we have been more than successful. In fact, I would say we have been victorious. Our legacy is all around us, and they are 2,000 strong. They are the children of this community, and they deserve the best we have to offer.

In closing, let me remind our staff, and share with our children and community, the three most important tools in your tool box: your head, your heart, and your voice. Use your heads to make decisions that embrace the future of an exuberant Clarke County full of love, laughter, and life; use your hearts to remember what our legacy is really all about, and that is the children we love and nurture and send on to a better tomorrow; and use your voices, loud and vibrant, to stand up for what you believe. Above all else, believe in compassion, social justice, and the hope for a better tomorrow for our children. Not somewhere else, but here, in beautiful Clarke County.

Having rambled long enough, I would like to announce that after 36 years of doing what I love, I’m ready for a change. It is time to spend more time with my son, get to know my three step-daughters a little bit better, plant that long-awaited garden, start a few more bee hives, build the boat I have always dreamed of, and finish reading the stack of books on my night stand. The future belongs to those who create it, and I have plans you can’t even begin to imagine.

Retirement beckons, and Marie and I are ready to begin the next chapter in this wonderful life we share. We will do it together, as husband and wife, best friends, and partners.

As such, June 30, 2014, will be my last day as Superintendent of Clarke County Public Schools.

Michael F. Murphy is superintendent  of Clarke County Public Schools. He  delivered this statement to the  county School Board Monday.