Of course, Lubbock, Texas, is a much different community than Fairfax County, both in terms of size and politics, although its demographics are somewhat similar. Its population numbers 290,000, 55 percent of which is white, 32 percent non-white Hispanic, 9 percent African-American and 2.5 percent Asian-Pacific American. By comparison, Fairfax County’s makeup is 63 percent white, 18 percent non-white Hispanic, 9 percent African-American, and 18 percent Asian-Pacific American.
In terms of political affiliation, Lubbock has ranked as the second-most conservative city in the country with a population over 100,000. Lubbock also made international headlines during the 2012 presidential election when a county judge claimed that Lubbock needed to increase its police force since President Barack Obama would send in United Nations troops to quell the uprisings that would follow Obama’s re-election.
This political environment should be kept in mind when considering Garza’s achievements. One of the first tasks she took on as LISD superintendent was to form a committee to analyze facilities needs and create a school bond package to fund facility improvements. Totaling $198 million, the proposed bond package was more than double the size of any previous school bond in Lubbock. To make matters more challenging, the bond was put on the ballot in 2010 – what some might consider the peak year of the Tea Party movement. That year, when half of the school bond measures in the state of Texas failed, Lubbock’s bond passed by a two-percent margin.
When several Fairfax County School Board members met with Lubbock community stakeholders last week, we heard that passing the bond package would not have been possible without Dr. Garza’s community engagement efforts, which extended well beyond supporting the bond. They spoke of her visits to a local barbershop where she explained the benefits of the bond package to men as they had their hair cut. They discussed how she engaged with school communities during the process of consolidating 11 schools (to bring about economies of scale), and that, as a result of her engagement, only two community members testified before the School Board in opposition to the consolidation. They recalled the door-to-door campaign she began to engage with students who had dropped out of school. They reminisced of Dr. Garza riding around in a golf cart to engage with each participant in a golf tournament to benefit the school system. And her Student Advisory Council explained how, when they brought concerns to her about homework load, they observed noticeable changes within one week.
Walking through the schools of Lubbock, the changes Dr. Garza brought to the system were instantly recognizable. With new bond money, the system was able to build new schools throughout the district and refurbish historic school buildings. Teachers were thrilled with the new technology she had brought to their classrooms and pleased with the vertical articulation of the curriculum. Parents who didn’t qualify for LISD’s need-based pre-K program were excited about enrolling their children in fee-based pre-K programs. Most important, as a fellow School Board member observed, school-based and central staff seemed to be very happy to be working in LISD and sad (yet proud) to see Dr. Garza leave.
Anonymous comments in the media have disparaged Dr. Garza for her Texas origins. While I by no means wish to defend education policies in the state of Texas, it is important to not equate individuals with the systems they seek to positively influence. By all accounts, Dr. Garza has overcome the shortcomings (and paltry school funding) inherent in the Texas educational system to provide a world-class education for her students in Lubbock, Houston and beyond. I think her previous colleagues and School Board members would agree that she truly lives up to the moniker “The Brains from South Plains.” I am so excited to work with her to bring about positive change to the Fairfax community.
Ryan McElveen is an At-large member of the Fairfax County School Board.