Jack D. Dale, who just retired as Fairfax County schools superintendent. (Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST)

The Fairfax County school board honored the nine-year career of former superintendent Jack Dale at a meeting on Thursday while also welcoming his successor, veteran Texan educator Karen Garza.

The meeting marked Garza’s first as chief of the 181,500 student school system and she, and Dale, received standing ovations as the board recognized the leadership transition. Garza is the first female superintendent in Fairfax County schools history.

“Karen, it’s all yours, girl,” Dale said at the meeting. “I know that the system is in great hands.”

The school board unanimously approved a resolution honoring Dale’s career. Teary-eyed board members Jane Strauss (Dranesville) and Kathy Smith (Sully) praised Dale’s cool demeanor as the division’s leader while the county endured the economic downturn and faced significant program cuts. The board members noted several of Dale’s achievements, including an expansion of full-day kindergarten to schools throughout the county and implementation of policies that encourage students to become global leaders.

“We have seen the power of the changes in our school system from the day Dr. Dale started,” said Smith. “I feel like you’ve changed the culture in Fairfax County for the students for the better.”

Dale left the school system in May after undergoing emergency cardiovascular surgery. He has spent the time since recuperating at home.

“He almost died,” Strauss said at the meeting. “It’s a miracle to see him standing before us.”

Dale’s popularity in the school community had somewhat declined in the past year, a fact acknowledged by board member Ted Velkoff (At Large) who compared Dale to president Harry S. Truman.

Truman left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in history, Velkoff said, but in the decades since his legacy, and similar reputation for coolness under pressure, has been lionized in historical texts.

Dale’s appearance at the school board meeting was his first major public outing since his surgery and his retirement.

“I’m going to miss the people the most,” Dale said. “People don’t realize the quality of the teachers and administrators in this school system.”