Jan 14 2010
State of the Schools: Superintendent highlights Federal Way's challenges
By Kyra Low
There were some laughs and quite a few tears as Superintendent Tom Murphy gave his last "State of the Schools" speech Wednesday at the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Murphy is retiring at the end of the school year, after more than 20 years in the district and more than a decade as the superintendent.
It was a packed house. Although the event usually brings in bigger crowd, this one was a record breaker at 230 people.
"I heard everyone say they were here for Tom," Chamber CEO Tom Pierson said.
Murphy talked about the changes the community has undergone during his time here: A more diverse school population, higher poverty and higher levels of non-native English speakers.
He also spoke of the achievements the district has accomplished despite these changes â€” that Federal Way students are at or above the state average in all areas measured by the WASL and by the SATs, and that students are earning an average of a 3 on AP tests, which give them college credit.
Murphy added that people throughout the state know Federal Way schools "as innovators, as creators, people who do not make excuses but face our problems head on and search for solutions...together."
He cited the announcement by Standard and Poor's that Federal Way, Thomas Jefferson and Todd Beamer high schools have all narrowed the achievement gap, three of 51 schools in the state that did so.
He noted that Federal Way is one of the top 10 highest performing districts in the state based on WASL scores and other factors, as determined by the Washington School Research Center at Seattle Pacific University in 2004.
The district was the first school in the state to open an Internet-based instruction program in 1996. The district was also the first and only West Coast site of the Cambridge Program, a program that is now at several schools.
Federal Way High School's AVID program was named a demonstration school in 2008, and Totem Middle School's AVID was selected in 2009. There are 3,300 schools in the AVID program; 130 of those are designated as demonstration schools.
And, Murphy added, the district does all of this with less. "We do more with less, and so our children are punished," Murphy said. "The Supreme Court justices should be ashamed of themselves," he added to a round of applause.
Then Murphy got a little bit more personal, commenting that at the start of this school year, he had realized it was his 58th consecutive first day of school and his 42nd as a school employee.
"And I decided that was enough, that this year would be my last," he said.
But it was when he spoke of his future â€” of a day spent sitting on his deck with a cold beverage in his hand and a grandchild asking him what he did in Federal Way â€” that he got choked up.
"I will be proud to provide this answer," he said after a moment. "I was fortunate to have known many great people in Federal Way and even more fortunate to have walked amongst them and have learned much from the glow of their leadership. And together we did good work, together we did good work. Thank you."
And then, with tears in many eyes, the audience gave him a very long standing ovation.
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