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By Jeff Pack

Garza-Gonzalez eager to put Fallbrook High back on the map


Last updated 7/4/2019 at 10:07pm

New Fallbrook Union High School District Superintendent Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez started her first day on the job Monday, July 1.

Even before Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez was hired to be Fallbrook Union High School District's new superintendent, she said she had already dreamed of moving to the area. In fact, she and her husband even bought a plot of land on which to build their dream home.

"Many, many years ago, we actually purchased land by the little Ross Lake area to build a home," Garza-Gonzalez said, during a sit-down interview with the Village News last week. "So, in our minds, my husband and I have always thought, 'okay, Fallbrook, Fallbrook.'"

She and her husband would come out on weekends and water the groves, preserving the property that sat right in the middle of the locations of where each of them worked.

Garza-Gonzalez worked for the Jurupa Unified School District and her husband worked in San Diego. In the end, it was just a little too far from the freeway for a commute with two children, and they sold the property.

"But in the back of our minds, it's always been maybe we'll retire in Fallbrook since it didn't happen with the kids growing up," she said. "Maybe we'll retire in Fallbrook."

Instead, she came to work in Fallbrook and that is maybe the next best thing, Garza-Gonzalez said, who officially started her first school superintendent's position Monday, July 1.

She spent the last six years as director of administrative services for the district and has 22 years of experience as a teacher, principal and administrator of the K-12 district.

"The reason that I felt this was for me had a lot to do with the fact that it's a high school district, and I'm passionate about high school," Garza-Gonzalez said. "I work in a K-12. I've always worked in the K12, but my heart and my knowledge really lie in high school. Fallbrook High School is similar in the programs that it offers, and in where it's at, to the school where I was principal."

Garza-Gonzalez approved unanimously May 6, by the FUHSD board after being selected from among 26 applicants with the assistance of McPherson and Jacobson Consulting Search Firm.

Lou Obermeyer, Ph.D., started work Jan. 7 as interim superintendent and continued the job through March after Hugo A. Pedroza, Ph.D., left the district in December 2018 following elections in November that overhauled the school board. Stephen Halfaker has been serving as interim superintendent since March.

Garza-Gonzalez said she has been and will be leaning heavily on Halfaker as she starts her new job – especially when her workload became significantly heavier when high school Principal David Farkas, Ph.D., announced he was resigning June 19.

Considering Fallbrook High has had two principals in the last two years, Garza-Gonzalez is wary of the perception of instability in that position.

"I do mentor assistant principals and one of the things that I notice is many of them are in a rush to move up that ladder, and there is a lot of knowledge to be gained in staying in a position," she said. "So I would definitely look at work history, just in the paper screening, cause that will tell me are they just moving up to move up or are they actually investing some time in each of the positions that they've held."

She clarified that she wasn't insinuating that Farkas was using Fallbrook High as a stepping stone.

"It's definitely a concern of mine because I know that there is a lot of work that needs to be done here in building trust and building relationships," Garza-Gonzalez said. "For both of those, you need time and you need to make that commitment. That is one of the number one things that I'm going to try and figure out."

Asked how she views the district, since she was still on the outside then, she said she was optimistic.

"I said this in the interview, there is a lot of potential," Garza-Gonzalez said. "I was very surprised by the data that you see on the dashboard that does not tell the whole story, obviously, but it's what everybody sees and what everybody judges you on and what I believe is possible.

"The feeling that I get is that Fallbrook is poised to really excel because there are so many programs that exist that would impact some of that data that everyone uses to score you on for those numbers to actually be higher.

"I don't know yet. I haven't officially started, so I haven't been able to get my hands on everything and there's a lot to do. I don't know if it is a data management piece where we're not collecting it correctly or if it's just a process piece or a lack of misinformation," Garza-Gonzalez said.

She said she intends to improve that by being more communicative with the public.

"One of the things that I would like to do because I hear that we lose students, and you know, maybe it's because of the perception that people have of the school or maybe it's another reason is to really improve communications," Garza-Gonzalez said. "I'd like to do a blog and a podcast and really talk about the factual nature of what's really going on. Like this is Advanced Placement capstone, this is Ag and FFA and everything that they do, and keeping people informed of what's going on because a high school is a little city in and of itself."

She said she is going to get to work getting to know the current staff and employees by making herself visible on campus and in the community beyond just the school board meetings.

"First off, starting with the staff that's already here, building those relationships, finding out what's really going on," Garza-Gonzalez said. "And the only way to do that is to be in the classroom, be out on the campus, engaging with them wherever you can, not only at a board meeting or not only where I run into you somewhere or there's an issue and we're coming together to talk. Really get an idea of what's really happening on that day-to-day basis and then beginning to make changes that way.

"One of the reasons it's so important to be visible and I understand that, well, that kind of sounds more like a principal role, but this is a small district where I think the superintendent and the principal role kind of blend together.

"A lot of times you have what you need in your staff and they can then lead others and you get so much more that way because that's someone that they trust. Someone that they know and someone who's in-house that they can go to if they have an issue implementing, you know, A, B or C.

"But I first need to know what's there, obviously," she said.

Another big issue ahead of her is the approval of the International Baccalaureate program by the school board earlier this year. She admits she hasn't spent much time on that leading up to her first day.

"I honestly haven't had a chance to sit down and look at the work or how the decision came about or how much training has already been done or you know, what does that four-year plan look like?" Garza-Gonzalez said. "Because I'm hoping there's one there to say, 'okay, we started in ninth grade, but this is where we're going to be in four years.' And then looking at how that program will work in harmony with the AP capstone program that already exists."

She said she is looking forward to meeting with teachers and staff at what might be a tumultuous campus.

"I think if they were already stressed about change with me coming in, and Dr. Farkas leaving definitely just blew it over the top," Garza-Gonzalez said. "I'm waiting for next week and eager for next week to be able to begin officially communicating with people just to alleviate some of those fears or be available to answer questions about, okay, well what's going on with this? Or where are we going with this? What are we going to do with this? It's basically going to be 'hit the ground running.'"

Garza-Gonzalez said she was eager to get going.

"I keep telling my husband 'I am so excited,'" she said. "I just want it to be July 1st, and I do realize that there's a lot of work to be done and there is a lot of challenges. But in my head, I keep telling myself, we got to put Fallbrook on the map for all the right reasons. It's Fallbrook High School and Ivy and Oasis. I am excited, and I'm not afraid of the work ahead. I think my concern is trying to learn everything as quickly as I can, but I'm not in a rush to make changes for the sake of making changes.

"One of the quotes that I mentioned and that I learned as an administrator is the first year you observe the chaos, the second year you create it. But there are some things that are – oh, we definitely need to address that right now, because if it's a safety issue or if it's an education code violation, then no, we're not going to sit around and wait."

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at


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