Shirley Urquia, former ACPS interim superintendent, dies at 92

Shirley Urquia, former ACPS interim superintendent, dies at 92
Shirley Urquia, who earned a doctorate in elementary education from George Washington University. (courtesy photo)

By Mark Eaton

Shirley Urquia, Ed.D., who had a long career in Alexandria City Public Schools that culminated in the roles of interim superintendent and assistant superintendent in the early 1990s, died February 25. She was 92.

Urquia is warmly recalled as an encouraging mentor by many of her former ACPS colleagues.

Lois Berlin, Ed.D., who like Urquia served as interim ACPS superintendent, described Urquia as approachable and honest.

“When I was a teacher at the Alexandria Developmental Center, she asked me on a visit what I planned to do next,” Berlin said in a statement to the Times. “I hadn’t really thought about it and she invited me to come talk with her about the possibilities. She was so supportive and convinced me that I should go further. When the Cora Kelly Magnet School Coordinator position became available, she encouraged me to apply.”

Retired ACPS administrator Cathy David also emphasized Urquia’s mentoring as making a difference in her career.

“I knew Dr. Urquia quite well and admired and respected her very much,” David said in an emailed message. “She was the Director of Elementary Education when I taught fifth grade at [William] Ramsay. I always thought of her as a valued mentor – she was the first to urge me to get my administrator’s credential and supported me every step of the way.”

Retired ACPS teacher and administrator Linda Wilkoff recalled in an interview that early in her teaching career, Urquia would observe her classroom and offer encouragement.

“She would settle in, observe, talk to the kids and say something positive,” Wilkoff said. “[Urquia] was authentic and inclusive.”

Urquia, a native of Union City, Indiana, graduated from West Side High School. She attended Indiana University where she obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and met her future husband Alfred, who was commissioned into the Air Force in 1952.

Urquia taught at elementary schools wherever her husband was stationed, including Montgomery, Alabama; Tokyo, Japan; Honolulu, Hawaii and Wiesbaden, Germany. After finishing their tours of duty, they settled in Alexandria. Urquia then earned her doctorate degree in elementary education at George Washington University.

Urquia joined ACPS in 1966 and taught at Mount Vernon and William Ramsay Elementary Schools. She was an assistant principal at James K. Polk and Stonewall Jackson Elementary Schools and principal of George Mason Elementary School.

She later became ACPS’ executive director for elementary education, assistant superintendent programs/staff development and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. She retired from ACPS in 1995.

Urquia was an avid reader, loved to garden, collected antiques and was a talented cook, activities she particularly enjoyed after retiring from ACPS, according to her published obituary. She moved to Richmond in 2021 to be closer to her children.

Retired ACPS teacher Pam Walkup recalled in an interview that while Urquia had citywide responsibilities, she always supported special events at the schools where Walkup worked. She remembers Urquia as an active member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an education honorary society, and as active in promoting the early adoption of computer-based outside school reading programs.

Walkup said that Urquia “… believed in what she was doing and in helping others. She always had a kind word and a smile.”

John Porter, the long-time former principal of T.C. Williams High School, now called Alexandria City High School, in an email described Urquia as a highly capable administrator.

“She was [someone] I had many discussions with relative to the focus and direction of staff/professional development once she assumed this important role,” Porter said in the email. “She ‘knew her stuff’ and applied this knowledge throughout her career.”

Betty Hobbs, a former ACPS principal and an assistant superintendent in the Arlington County Public Schools, said in a statement that she learned a tremendous amount from Urquia.

“Dr. Urquia was always one of my favorite people! She was so dedicated to her work and made me want to work hard WITH her!” Hobbs said in the statement. “I never felt that I worked FOR her, it was always WITH her! I learned so much from her!”

Urquia was preceded in death by her parents, John K. Teaford and Selene Brierly Teaford, her husband Col. Alfred P. Urquia and her niece Dana McClain. She is survived by her sister Joan Teaford Goree, son David C. Urquia (Dorothy Laite Urquia), daughter Cynthia U. Caravati Lake (Kevin Allan Lake), granddaughters Lindsey Urquia and Morgan Urquia Poletti (Caio Poletti), step-granddaughters Jane Lake and Elizabeth Lake, nieces Brigitte de Cambourg, Francoise Urquia, Debbie Lyons and nephew Ray Lyons.

A memorial service was held at Everly-Wheatley Funeral Home on March 19. Urquia will be interred next to her husband, Alfred, at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date. In lieu of flowers, Urquia’s family welcomes donations to the Campagna Center’s “Wright to Read” program. Visit their website at for donation information.