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Fairfax Superintendent: Candidate Can 'Bring Everyone Together in a Common Mission'

Fairfax County School Board, community members, share hopes for Karen Garza, likely the system's next superintendent.

Hours after Fairfax County Public Schools announced Karen Garza would likely become its next superintendent, school board leaders and other stakeholders spoke to the number of "unique qualities" they looked forward to seeing at the head of the system — chief among them, her ability to work collaboratively to find solutions.

In a county that's home to a "highly demanding community and high expectations and different groups with strong voices who are not shy about expressing their opinions," that's an incredibly coveted trait, school board chair Ilryong Moon told Patch.

"It's good to have a superintendent who believes in collaborating with a wide number of groups and does it well," Moon said, noting the former elementary school teacher was the board's unanimous pick for a preferred candidate.

Read: Fairfax County School Board Makes Superintendent Pick

School board members are making a site visit next Tuesday to Garza's current district in Lubbock, Texas. They will return Wednesday to Fairfax to give a final report in a closed meeting, Moon said. After finalizing an employment contract, the board expects to officially name Garza superintendent at its Thursday regular meeting.

Her contract would begin July 1.

A number of qualities made Garza stand out to school board members, Moon said, but her energy around finding common solutions was one of the things that most impressed Fairfax's board and stakeholders.

Moon said that when Garza arrived four years ago at her current district in Lubbock, that system's school board members did not have a good working relationship.

Garza was "able to bridge a gap and unify the board members to bring everyone together on a common mission."

There are a lot of needs in Fairfax, Moon said, but that skill in particular can help the community move forward.

On Wednesday night, the leaders of Fairfax County's largest teachers associations agreed.

Fairfax County Federation of Teachers president Steve Greenburg said his organization was "just so happy that she's here.

"I am so looking forward to working with her to bring all stakeholders together collectively; to take our skills, talents and knowledge and work together to make our school system the best it can possibly be," he said.

The county faces significant challenges going forward, added Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston, and "stakeholder collaboration and engagement particularly with the workforce will be critical to solving complex issues," he told Patch.

Moon said Garza's experience with achivement-gap issues was also attractive as Fairfax works through student performance challenges of its own.

He said the demographics of the Lubbock Independent School District were "even more challenging than [in] Fairfax County," with a high percentage of English language learners and students on free or reduced price meals.

"She as superintendent had to be able to show academic achievement growth for all groups of students in her district," Moon said.

She has also worked as Chief Academic Officer — the  No. 2 behind the superintendent — in Houston, Texas. As the seventh largest school district in the country, Houston is an even bigger district with bigger challenges, and Garza's experience there "will help us to be even better than where we are now," Moon said.

Sheree Brown-Kaplan, chair of the Coalition of The Silence (COTS) Committee on Children with Disabilities, told Patch she hoped Garza will emphasize the same literacy initiatives she supported in Lubbock in Fairfax, "especially improved services for students with dyslexia." 

"Last year the School Board made it one of its beliefs that all children should read on grade level by 3rd grade," she said. "It will take a superintendent with a strong commitment to struggling readers to ensure that belief becomes a reality."

Moon called this search, his third as a school board member, a better hybrid of the other two searches Fairfax has conducted in the past decade and a half.

Last fall, board members pledged to make this process more open and inclusive than searches in the past, during which some residents said they felt excluded and unheard.

They pursued a two-tiered public engagement process that involved a community-wide survey and large stakeholder meetings, along with a committee of 18 stakeholders who held interviews with semifinalists.

"This has worked out very, very well," Moon said.

Catherine April 11, 2013 at 12:18 AM
Looks like Mr. Moon has finally learned something about working for and with the public and stakeholders instead of against them. Good to see his change in attitude.
elizabeth April 11, 2013 at 03:10 AM
Funny, I have found Mr. Moon thoughtful, and in the years I have watched the School Board he seems to attend more meetings than most, goes to all types of events for students and listens before making any judgements. I think you are off base Catherine, but then you have been so in many of your posts about education in the past.
Scott April 11, 2013 at 01:52 PM
My first thought is, "Can Dr. Garza scale up to lead a district as large as Fairfax County?" I'm not familiar with how executives in public education expand their managerial horizons, so maybe this is a standard path. The school system looks like it will be in a low revenue growth pattern for a while so let's hope she's ready to address that right out of the gate.
Laurie Dodd April 11, 2013 at 05:34 PM
Before her four years in Lubbock, Garza was second-in-command in the Huston school system, which is bigger than Fairfax. This experience in a large school system is important. I am glad to hear that she improved the education of students with disabilities like dyslexia. I hope she is also ready to focus on the Advanced Academic Programs at TJ and other Fairfax schools, so the talented students of our district will thrive. Concerns about lessening the achievement gap chould not lead us to neglect those top students!
RGS April 11, 2013 at 08:42 PM
Lets hope she can deal with those that are falling through the cracks. I am tired of always hearing about the issues of the"top performers" what about those who are "normal" or regular education. These students can't get anyone to even listen to them when they have questions of their schools. Like classes or academic paths that should be followed because eveyone is so focused on "top" performers. FCPS is supposed to be for everyone. Lets not forget the masses instead of focusing all the efforts on the top 5-10%, especially in High Schools.

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