For the past decade, I have had the honor and privilege of being at the helm of one of the top school divisions in the country. As I reflect on our time together, I am immensely proud and grateful for all that I have learned from you, and for all that we have accomplished together.
The people of Arlington care deeply about public education and believe that a strong school system is the driving force in our community and nation. I thank you for supporting our schools throughout my tenure, and for being thoughtful, generous, engaged and, most of all, passionate about quality public education. We are all focused on the same destination for our students – we want them to dream big, believe in themselves and find their paths to success.
The most gratifying part of my time at APS has been the opportunity to watch as our students progress on their academic journeys from elementary school to middle and high school, up to graduation day as they walk the stage to accept their diplomas. As an educator, there is no greater joy than to see our students achieve their goals.
It is no secret why businesses, young professionals and families are flocking to Arlington. Our schools are the crown jewel of Arlington – consistently helping our kids achieve and delivering quality education and excellence reflected in every school. This success is because of our outstanding teachers, principals, administrators and staff. They are the best of the best.
These are the reasons why APS has been ranked the number one school division in the Commonwealth of Virginia by Niche for the past two years in a row, and why APS consistently tops numerous other challenge indexes and quality rankings.
We have accomplished a great deal together since 2009. Our PreK-12 student enrollment has grown by nearly 8,000 students, and we have grown, evolved and strengthened our schools, services, options and instructional programs to advance student success and meet their needs every step of the way. Because of Arlington County’s commitment and our residents’ overwhelming support for bond initiatives, we have completed many renovation and construction projects and are ready to open five new schools and programs this school year, as we continue to expand our school division to serve generations to come.
As we have grown, we have maintained our focus on excellence and our commitment to providing a high-quality education and multiple pathways to success for every student. Through hard work and teamwork, APS has earned the distinction of being the only school division in the Commonwealth to earn full accreditation for all our schools from the Virginia Department of Education for the past five consecutive years. Our most recent results demonstrate that APS students continue to meet or outpace their peers in Virginia and across the nation in SOL pass rates, average SAT and ACT scores, as well as IB pass rates.
In the past 10 years, the number of APS students enrolled in dual enrollment courses to earn college credits while in high school has risen by nearly 10 percent, and on-time high school graduation rates for high school seniors in APS have increased by 10 percent. APS achieved a 95 percent graduation rate for the Class of 2018 at the comprehensive high schools.
In that same time, on-time graduation rates for Hispanic students have risen by 12.6 percentage points, and for Black students by more than 13 percentage points to 93.6 percent in 2018. This is progress, and we continue to focus on strategies for addressing the opportunity gap among student groups.
Together, we deepened our community outreach and expanded our network of volunteers and community partners to offer our students valuable work-based learning experiences. We harnessed “lightning in a bottle” with the growth of Northern Virginia’s technology sector to launch Arlington Tech and spurred the expansion of innovative career and technical education options for Arlington students.
Success starts with keeping kids in school, and we made this a priority by providing supportive services that give our students an extra helping hand when they need it. Through targeted interventions and the help of a highly-dedicated team, APS has kept 99 percent of students in school and maintained the lowest suspension rate in Northern Virginia.
One constant that I have seen over the last 10 years has been change. From new principals and administrators to boundaries, budget challenges, enrollment growth and new schools, APS has changed quite a bit. But through it all, there has been strength and stability in the classroom. APS is strong because we have the people, the instructional programs and the long-term plan to ensure our students succeed. I want to say thank you:
- To our administrators, teachers and counselors. You are the best at what you do and you are making a difference in students’ lives every day.
- To our support staff, bus drivers, food services workers, custodians, and maintenance and technology teams. Thank you for working hard behind the scenes and in our schools across the division to ensure students are healthy, safe and supported.
- To our County partners, most notably, the Arlington County Board and County Manager Mark Schwartz, for your continued partnership in making sure we have the resources to help our students thrive and succeed. With their help and our Board’s commitment, we overcame a $43 million shortfall and fully fund our schools for the coming year. This was no small feat.
- To the members of the APS Executive Leadership Team and school principals, who have been on the front lines of so many positive changes. Your knowledge, will, enthusiasm and caring nature have been the fuel to make good things happen for the students in all our schools.
- To our dedicated School Board for their service and commitment. The 13 school board members and eight school board chairs I have worked with in Arlington have given their time and energy serving our community to ensure success for all students.
- To our families, for staying engaged and supporting our schools, and to our students for allowing me to share in your academic journey.
There are many bright spots over the last decade, but the ones I will cherish the most involve the successes of our students. I leave the school division in excellent hands with Cintia Johnson as your interim superintendent. I wish you continued success with the important work of the APS Strategic Plan and in supporting student growth. In the years ahead, I will continue to reflect fondly on my time in Arlington and will keep track of the division’s continued progress which is certain to make me smile.
Patrick K. Murphy, Ed.D.