Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Karen Garza plans to implement sweeping changes to the system’s organization, a shake-up that will create new executive leadership positions and will regroup schools to pair high-achieving high schools with those that are struggling.
The new hierarchy and realignment would significantly alter the structure of Virginia’s largest school division, which at 185,500 students is also one of the largest in the nation. The shift represents Garza’s most visible change to the schools since she arrived in July.
The reorganization, which will take effect July 1, aims to improve the administration’s efficiency and establish clearer lines of authority between schools and the central office, according to Garza and three schools officials who have been briefed on her plan. It also will help the district cope with the county’s rapidly changing demographics by grouping different schools together.
Administrators hope the new school “regions” will create more equity across the system, allowing schools that typically have lower-achieving students and more poverty to work more closely — and share resources with — schools that tend to do better academically and have wealthier student populations.
“Organizations change and evolve, and our needs changed, and so I felt like for us to be more aligned, we had to change the way we manage decision-making to be more streamlined,” Garza said in an interview Friday. “Our hope is that this will make us more effective.”
For the most part, the transition will appear seamless to most involved in the school system, Garza said.
“This is simply an administrative decision,” Garza said. “It won’t affect the majority of our employees, parents or students.”
Garza began telling schools officials about the changes early Friday, and she announced the plan to employees in an e-mail Friday afternoon, saying that the new structure will “facilitate stronger and more differentiated support of our schools.”
“I am pleased to report that this new design is also cost effective and will create significant budgetary savings, once fully implemented,” Garza wrote in the message.
The restructuring would collapse the current eight geographic school “clusters” into five “regions.” The move will realign the district’s 22 high schools into new groupings that disregard physical location in the county and instead promote a more equal distribution of resources to eliminate “pockets of excellence,” said one schools official who had been briefed on the plan.
Where before top high schools Langley and McLean shared a cluster — both high-achieving schools in wealthy areas of the county — they soon will be split into different regions.
Falls Church High School PTA President Joan Daly said the new organization might help the administration better address income inequality across the county, but that the wide demographic variation across the large jurisdiction will still exist under any system.
“You’ll still have schools with different demographics than others,” regardless of which cluster or region they are in, Daly said.
The plan also calls for significant administrative staffing changes within the school system.
The eight cluster assistant superintendent positions will be reduced to five regional assistant superintendents. The former title of cluster director, seen by some administrators as a mid-grade position without much authority under the cluster superintendents, will be transformed into the elevated role of “executive principal.” The new position will exert more influence on the daily operations of schools within each region and provide better accountability for principals, schools officials said.
To make way for the new organization, several high-level administrators within Garza’s leadership team will leave their current posts and have to reapply for new positions within the school system, schools officials said.
A number of top-ranking positions in the administration will be eliminated, downgraded in prominence or consolidated under new titles, and schools officials said it appears likely that Garza will seek to hire a permanent deputy superintendent from outside the school system.
Garza said she has not made a final decision and that some of the eight candidates for the job are from inside the administration.
Garza’s plan calls for creating at least three new executive-level positions. One will be a chief academic officer to oversee instruction and teaching, a position Garza held in the Houston schools administration from 2005 to 2009.
There also will be a new a chief operations officer to supervise human resources, information technology and finance. A third position will be a chief of staff to oversee communications, government relations and other programs.
Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, the county’s largest teacher organization, said the changes will be an adjustment.
“It’s going to be a huge culture shift,” Adams said. “More than anything, a teacher in the classroom needs to know where you fall in [the] rank and order of things. It’s about knowing who you report to and how you get your job done and who oversees your work.”
The new schools will be organized into these regions under Garza’s plan:
Region 1: Langley, Madison, Herndon, South Lakes and Oakton; 36,600 students.
Region 2: McLean, Marshall, Stuart, Falls Church, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and Annandale; 36,800 students.
Region 3: Edison, Lee, Hayfield Secondary, Mount Vernon and West Potomac; 36,200 students.
Region 4: Robinson Secondary, Lake Braddock Secondary, West Springfield, South County and Centreville; 36,200 students.
Region 5: Woodson, Fairfax, Westfield and Chantilly; 33,000 students.