Wisdom comes from education’s seasons

As I begin my tenth year as your superintendent, my 21st year in Federal Way and my 41st year in our profession, I am sure of but a few things.

In almost all cases, the sureness of my youth has given way to uncertainty, a questioning of all things once known. I have come to understand this is not bad but is, in fact, a necessity of navigation in a world where the gravitational pull toward the “one right answer” is almost irresistible.

My self-awareness these days is centered on my attempts to discern the right question, and let the answers take care of themselves. This approach does provide some schizophrenia, however, as I try to navigate with my developing confusion and the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Instead of test scores, the federal folks would do much better if they measured how all schools focus on the questions that have no right to go away. Questions like, “What happens to academic achievement of our African American students after third grade?”

As much as they miss the mark, however, the federal regulations contained in NCLB have brought to the surface the faces of the students who are not performing in our public schools. And I actually believe the folks who were at the genesis of “school reform” had these students in mind. After all, isn’t that what reform is about? Making work what isn’t working or hasn’t worked in the past? For whom?

In the midst of my searching for the right questions, I know a few things with youthful sureness. This past week, we saw more than 22,000 students enter our classrooms. Our more than 2,800 employees were prepared to greet them.

Approximately 100,000 people living in our school district will look to us to provide a solid foundation for the future.

Parents of our students will send us their best children each day. Students will arrive full of hope and fear and excitement and trepidation. They will walk in the door with their hearts and minds exposed, waiting to see and feel how they are accepted, honored, respected and nurtured.

Has public education progressed far enough that we can see that each child is really a child, no matter how old or the facade employed? Have we committed ourselves to continual learning, to improving every day, to collaboration and reflection?

In the early winter of my career, I know I am thrilled to be once again a partner with you in this glorious search for the right questions, the search for just the right approach that will unlock all of the learning potential in the world for the most difficult child in our class.

At one point, I am sure, some of us were that child.

Tom Murphy is superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools: tmurphy@fwps.org.

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