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Houston Independent School District
Dr. Karen Garza
News Release
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

HISD’s Chief Academic Officer named lone finalist for Superintendent of Schools in Lubbock

After leading HISD to more than three years of record academic progress, Dr. HISD Chief Academic Officer Karen Garza on April 20 was named the lone finalist to become the new Superintendent of Schools Lubbock ISD. Dr Garza will remain at HISD through the end of this school year and is expected to begin work in Lubbock on July 1.

“This is a huge loss for HISD and a huge gain for the Lubbock ISD,” said Superintendent of Schools Abelardo Saavedra. “Karen has been a force for improving the academic standing of HISD and its schools. Her leadership, in working with the Board of Education, the regional superintendents, principals, and teachers, has helped HISD to make very strong academic progress during her tenure. We’ve been blessed to have someone of Dr. Garza’s skills and abilities. She will be missed, but we wish her well in her new post and know that great things are in store for the Lubbock ISD. I will be appointing an Interim Chief Academic Officer soon, to help guide the district through the transition while the    Board of Education searches for a new Superintendent of Schools.”

HISD Board President Lawrence Marshall said, “Karen is a very resourceful and imaginative individual with exceptional leadership and interpersonal skills. She should make an outstanding contribution to Lubbock ISD based on her considerable experience in urban and suburban education.”

The academic success of HISD students on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test and on the important SAT college-prep exam rose strongly under Dr. Garza’s leadership, outpacing state and national averages for progress. Dr. Garza led the development of HISD’s ASPIRE program, the school improvement effort that paid more than 18,000 teachers and instructional staff more than $70 million in performance bonuses over the last three years based on the academic improvement of children.

The ASPIRE program also gives schools and the public for the first time a way to see and help the academic progress of every child over multiple years. HISD’s “value-added” system of tracking the academic progress of schools and children is a breakthrough being watched closely around the country.

Dr. Saavedra recruited Dr. Garza in the summer of 2005, and she has directed the steady academic improvement of the district ever since. After her first year on the job, the average reading scores of HISD students on the SAT test increased five points while the Texas and national averages fell. The progress continued in 2007, with HISD’s reading and math scores rising again while the national averages fell and the Texas average made smaller gains.

Since Dr. Garza began leading HISD’s academic effort, her work with the board and Dr. Saavedra to focus on establishing a “college-bound culture” at every HISD school has helped lead the district to significant improvement in college-level work by high-school students and has lead to growth in College Readiness Scores that are outpacing the rest of the state.  HISD students took and passed record numbers of college-level Advanced Placement courses in 2006 and again in 2007.

Last year HISD announced that record numbers of inner-city Houston students, most of them living at or near the poverty line, are enrolling in classes at HISD that allow them to earn college credit for free while they are still in high school. A record high 3,302 HISD high school students, many of whom are economically disadvantaged and may never have been able to afford college tuition on their own, are enrolled in “dual-credit” courses this spring to earn college credit for free. That’s an increase of 47 percent just since 2007 in the number of dual-credit courses taken at HISD.

In 2007, HISD students set record highs on the TAKS test, making strong progress at nearly every grade level. Last year, 75 percent of schools improved in math and social studies passing rates, 70 percent improved in reading, and 60 percent improved in science. TAKS scores show HISD has made steady improvement and now HISD fifth-graders have virtually reached the state average in math performance, despite having far more economic barriers than most students across the state.

HISD now has 157 “Exemplary” or “Recognized” schools, a new record under the Texas accountability system that took effect in 2004. The number of “Academically Unacceptable” schools in HISD was cut by more than half in 2007, from 33 in 2006 to 15. Most other urban districts in Texas saw an increase in their number of unacceptable schools, so HISD’s improvement under the leadership of Dr. Garza, the superintendent, and the school board bucked the statewide trend.

“I am so thankful for having had the opportunity to serve the children of this community,” Dr. Garza said Tuesday. “I am proud to have been associated with HISD and all the wonderful people that make this school district great. I wish all within the system continued success.”

Dr. Saavedra hired Dr. Garza in June of 2005. She had been the deputy superintendent of the Corpus Christi Independent School District since August 2004, was associate executive director for governmental relations at the Texas Association of School Administrators from 2002 to 2004, and was executive director for curriculum, staff development, and accountability for the Katy Independent School District from 1999 to 2002.

Dr. Garza holds a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Master’s and Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Houston-Victoria.

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