Superintendent Tom Murphy leaves big shoes to fill | Bob Roegner

On Tuesday, the announcement many had feared became reality.

After 42 years in education, with 22 in Federal Way and 11 as superintendent, Tom Murphy is stepping down as leader of the Federal Way School District.

By announcing now, he sets in motion a recruitment process that will unfold over several months and allow for a smooth and orderly transition to a new superintendent by the end of the school year. Murphy has worked hard to put the district in the best possible position to minimize the challenges a new superintendent might face.

Schools are being built and updated, labor contracts are in place, and the finances are as solid as you can get in these difficult times. Since the superintendent becomes the face and voice of the district in the community, Olympia and statewide, replacing Murphy is the most important decision this school board may ever make.

But Murphy’s announcement also underscores the confidence he has in the composition of the current school board — and their maturity and ability to join with a new leader and continue the pursuit of educational excellence. Murphy is a rare leader whose passion, knowledge and commanding presence has provided parents with the confidence to know that their children and schools are in capable hands. To those close to him, it isn’t just his intelligence and accomplishments they remember, but his genuine warmth, inclusive style and humor that draws out their support, trust and affection. Filling Murphy’s shoes won’t be easy. He has provided Federal Way a visible and respected voice that ensures our needs are addressed by the Legislature. But the biggest challenge may be filling the void in the community where he is one of the top leaders and decision makers. This native son of Chicago knows how to get things done. Murphy’s popularity is such that he could be elected mayor if he chose. However, as a geographic by-product of my tenure as mayor of Auburn, he doesn’t live in the city — a fact he never misses an opportunity to remind me about. Ah, if I had known then what I know now.

We measure people by their accomplishments, and for Murphy, there are many. But his legacy will have a deeper meaning and more lasting effect because it is reflected in our children. As superintendent, he faced the challenge of an achievement gap, but he and his staff responded. Now our students outperform students in other districts, and do it with less financial support due to an outdated formula. Our students regularly bring home honors in academics, music and sports. Our district’s “brand” is well known, and parents move here specifically to ensure their children get the best possible education.

Our future as a society is damaged whenever our children are not educated to the fullest extent of our capacity. Education provides the vehicle that releases the energy that every human being possesses to be successful. Tom Murphy lives what he believes, and he believes you cannot afford to lose even one student because that mind may have the key to unlock the solution to a problem we now think of as unsolvable.

Occasionally, someone passes through our lives that has that certain blend of intelligence, character, integrity and principal that separates that person from the rest of us. Tom Murphy is that rare individual who has touched our lives and made them better.

And so it was that he announced his decision to retire. We will enjoy the next few months as a time of both reflection on past accomplishments and anticipation for what the future may yield.

But Tom, go to your future endeavors knowing you did your job well and served your community admirably. We offer our thanks. We are better for your efforts.