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New Superintendent Relishes Opportunity

A fan of Baylor grad RG3 … not Cowboys

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Dr. Karen Garza, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent.

I am honored and humbled to be the new superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). I arrived here from Lubbock, Texas, where I served for the past four years as the superintendent of the Lubbock Independent School District. The opportunity to lead a world-class school system like FCPS was one that I simply could not pass up. I am so appreciative of the very warm welcome my husband, Louis, and I have received since our arrival in June.

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Cassidy Austria receives her diploma and congratulations at the June 13 Robinson High School 2013 Commencement Ceremony. New superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools Karen K. Garza calls FCPS “a world-class school system.”

You should know that the question I have heard most in my first few weeks on the job is: “Are you a Dallas Cowboys fan?” I can state, unequivocally, the answer to that question is “No.” In fact, we are big fans of Baylor grad RG3. Our family includes four grown children and five wonderful grandchildren. One child of ours is now in his third year as an elementary school teacher and, as a former teacher myself, it has been an exciting experience to watch as he grows into the job and learns the joys and, yes, the challenges of teaching. Where I am today is due, in large part, to the many excellent and caring teachers I had along the way. I have already met many FCPS teachers, principals and administrators and I have been so impressed with their commitment to our students. Together, we will make a great team.

One of my first goals is to work with the school board in developing a long-range strategic plan that will incorporate input from FCPS stakeholders including parents, students, educators and community members. The strategic plan will serve as a roadmap to improve academic achievement for all of our students.

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The Class of 2013 applauds as Langley High School principal Matthew Ragone is introduced.

I also believe it is important that we develop a graduate profile that clearly shows what our students need to know and be able to do when they leave FCPS for college and career opportunities. We will build upon the success of the past and, at the same time, confront our realities—achievement gaps, disparities in graduation rates among student groups and the increasing expectations for our schools while experiencing diminishing resources.

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From right, South Lakes seniors Jonathan Valenzuela, Olivia Nguyen and Chadia King at the school’s graduation ceremony Friday, June 14.

Here in Fairfax, not only do we have the talent and the expertise to solve the problems facing us in FCPS, but we are uniquely positioned to solve the most pressing issues facing public schools across the country. We want to lead the national discussion to develop new systems to measure teaching and learning. Standardized testing, while well intentioned, has gone too far and often results in narrowing the instructional focus of schools. We can develop new ways to measure how well our students are learning and how well our teachers are teaching without taking the joy out of either learning or teaching.

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Oakton High School students walk back to their seats after receiving their diplomas.

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The Herndon High School Class of 2013 celebrates their graduation Tuesday, June 18 at the Patriot Center.

I plan to visit schools regularly because the best way for me to understand the needs and expectations of our school division is to talk with and listen to all of our stakeholders. The start of a new school year serves as a reminder that we have wonderful opportunities to make a difference in the lives of our students and that we are extremely fortunate to live in a community that values public education.

I invite you to share your ideas on ways to make the Fairfax County school system the very best it can be. I believe it is critical that we at FCPS hear from you. Please take a minute and visit www.fcps.edu and click on “Advice for Superintendent Garza.” I wish you all a most enjoyable and successful school year and I look forward to meeting many of you in the days ahead.

Karen K. Garza is the new superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools.