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.