A "strategic planner, a systems thinker, a stellar manager, and a highly effective communicator" is how the Fairfax County School Board described Karen Garza, the Texas superintendent leaders announced as their preferred candidate for superintendent Wednesday.
Garza, who for the past four years has led the 30,000-student district of Lubbock, Texas, will assume the role pending final negotiations and a board site visit to the Lubbock Independent School District (ISD).
She will become the system's first female superintendent as she takes the place of current Superintendent Jack Dale, who retires June 30.
Garza was selected from 47 applicants for the position, and came out ahead of the 18 other candidates who were interviewed largely because of her work in Lubbock, where she is credited with "reducing the achievement gap, increasing graduation rates, emphasizing increased academic rigor, improving the financial health of the district, engaging parents and community members, creating a vision for the school district through the leadership of the Board, and emphasizing community and family engagement efforts aimed at supporting all children in the classroom," according to a statement from the school board.
Read: Fairfax Superintendent: Candidate Can 'Bring Everyone Together in a Common Mission'
While Garza's current district — which includes 30,000 children in 61 schools — is just a fraction of the more than 180,000 students enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools,her previous role as Chief Academic Officer of the Houston Independent School District lends itself to a district of Fairfax's size.
Finding a candidate who had experience with a system as large as Fairfax was one of the reasons the board selected Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates — the same consulting firm that found Dale in 2004 — to lead the current search process.
Where Fairfax County is the country's 11th largest district, Houston is its seventh. There, Garza oversaw instruction and facilities for more than 200,000 students during her tenure with the system, according to Fairfax officials.
In particular, the board was impressed with Ganza's focus on engagement and effective communication — two characteristics given high priority by residents and other stakeholders over the past six months in community meetings about the superintendent search
“As the superintendent search process winds down, the School Board would like to thank the citizens of Fairfax County for enthusiastically participating in and providing great insights throughout the process,” Board Chair Ilryong Moon said in a statement. “This outcome would not have been possible without the active participation of our community.”
Garza's role in turning around student performance in Houston was also attractive to Fairfax's school board, as it struggles with closing achievement gaps and trying to innovate methods of measuring student success.
During her time in Houston, where she was oversaw performance across 300 schools, Houston ISD became "one of the highest performing urban school systems in the country," Fairfax officials said in a statement.
Patch will update this story as more information becomes available.