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Fairfax County School Board Makes Superintendent Pick

Karen Garza, currently a superintendent in Texas, will likely become the next leader of Fairfax County Public Schools.

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.

Cara April 11, 2013 at 02:41 PM
The process is a bit depressing....it should be fully transparent...this individual will have tremendous impact on what is most dear to us, our children...yet there is no transparency, and deals are made in a back room. Allegedly this is to protect the unsuccessful candidates...what about the kids?
Michael April 11, 2013 at 03:31 PM
It can 't be transparent, Cara. People applying for the job risk getting fired if the word gets out too early - anonymity is essential for anybody working in what is effectively an "at will" position.
Michael April 11, 2013 at 03:33 PM
Perhaps the size of the applicant pool has to do with the qualifications that were put out. If experience in a large (say top-25 by enrollment) is considered important, and each such district has only a handful of top people, then there would be at most a few hundred potential applicants. Getting 47 of them interested reflects a pretty high percentage out of such a small pool.
Kate April 12, 2013 at 02:49 PM
I likewise wonder about the need to bring someone from Texas and the process, the consulting firm used. Therefore, as residents and parents in Fairfax County, it would be good if a group of us could meet with Dr. Garza sooner rather than later. As you may be aware, two new bills were recently signed into Virginia law by Gov. McDonnell - HB 1642, and SB 908, "Fundamental Right Law" which states that "Parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education and care of the parents' child". This law confirms that parental rights are "fundamental" and not "ordinary" rights. In Texas, there is a law primarily related to parents who choose to home school their children. (There is also another law which deals with grandparents trying to usurp the rights of parents over other care for children but does not pertain to education of the child per se.)
Lee April 22, 2013 at 09:42 PM
Ugh, "what about the kids?" If I had a penny for every time someone said that... Michael below is correct. I remember this being debated a year or two ago announced his Superintendent Dale announced his retirement and the search was starting. The problem is that many of the applicants are in positions where if it were known they were talking with other systems they'd either be terminated or their power, for lack of a better term, would be greatly diminished since everyone would assume that person's just looking to leave. Let's try this: next time you're looking for a new job and have interviews that seem to be going well be sure to put it in the newspapers (and here on Patch), have a public discourse and discussion. Then see how much longer you're working for your current employer or if you are, if any good projects come your way.

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