Garza oversaw major changes in first year as Fairfax County school superintendent


Fairfax County Superintendent Karen Garza (Donnie Biggs/Fairfax County Public Schools)

In her first year as superintendent of Fairfax County public schools, Karen Garza has overseen sweeping changes of the school system she inherited from Jack D. Dale, who served nine years as schools chief.

Garza was a veteran educator and schools administrator in Texas when she joined Fairfax last July 1, becoming the first woman to lead Virginia’s largest school system. She had previously served as the second-in-command of the Houston Independent Schools District and superintendent in Lubbock, Tex., since 2009.

Beginning Tuesday, Garza’s future vision for the school system takes effect through a new organizational structure and administrative team. The 196 schools will now be split among five “regions” instead of the former eight “clusters.”

Garza’s newly appointed executives also take office Tuesday, including former chief financial officer Susan Quinn, who now serves as the chief operations officer, and former assistant superintendent for special services Kim Dockery, who becomes the chief academic officer. Next month, Garza’s new deputy superintendent Steve Lockard will join Fairfax, leaving his post as deputy superintendent in Frederick County, Md.

Garza came into the superintendent position with high ambitions, and she largely kept promises she made a year ago to revamp school policies.

She oversaw a tense budget process and came through on assurances that she would promote teacher compensation as a priority. She stewarded new discipline rules that effectively cut most suspensions in half with the goal of reducing the amount of time students spend out of school for infractions. She led an effort to revise the academic calendar that disbanded the four-decade tradition of half-day Mondays in elementary schools.

Garza also leaves several initiatives unfinished as her first year ends. While she helped teachers and staff receive the equivalent of a 2 percent raise next year, she fell short of an earlier goal of a 2.5 percent raise. A long-awaited plan to push back high school start times to allow teenagers to get more sleep has also stalled in recent months.

Perhaps Garza’s signature achievement since her swearing in a year ago will be the new organizational structure that takes effect Tuesday.

Garza has said the structure will help the school system become more efficient, establish more clear lines of authority between principals and the central administration, and more equitably distribute resources among the schools, especially those struggling to meet academic standards.

The new organizational structure will group high schools and secondary schools into the following regions:

Region 1: Langley, Madison, Herndon, South Lakes and Oakton.

Region 2: McLean, Marshall, Stuart, Falls Church, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and Annandale.

Region 3: Edison, Lee, Hayfield Secondary, Mount Vernon and West Potomac.

Region 4: Robinson Secondary, Lake Braddock Secondary, West Springfield, South County and Centreville.

Region 5: Woodson, Fairfax, Westfield and Chantilly.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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