The Tacoma School Board of Directors voted March 25 to elect Deputy Superintendent Josh Garcia to succeed Superintendent Carla Santoro, who recently announced her retirement at the end of the 2021-2022 School year.
President Andrea Cobb noted that she has worked in education throughout her career and served on the Board for six years—where she had observed the “culture of leadership,” vision and systems of improvement that Santorno and Garcia have built together.
“I personally believe fully that Dr. Garcia is the right person to continue to refine, improve and implement that vision moving forward,” President Cobb said. “I appreciate the leadership team that I’ve seen, I appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into the work that you do, and I’m excited about what the future will bring.”
During the public comment portion of the board meeting, several community leaders representing TPS partner agencies thanked Superintendent Santorno and spoke about Dr. Garcia’s contributions to developing and growing partnerships to help Tacoma’s children.
Community partners included Shon Sylvia from Metro Parks, Tanya Durand from Greentrike (Children’s Museum), Fahren Johnson from the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation who previously worked for the YMCA, Tom Pierson from the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, Holly Bamford Hunt from the Bamford Family Foundation and Tafona Ervin from the Foundation for Tacoma Students.
Partners lauded Dr. Garcia’s contributions to expand learning opportunities for students before and after school, use data systems to support student achievement and the Whole Child commitment to nurturing the social and emotional needs of students.
TEA President Shannon Ergun urged the Board to conduct a search for the next superintendent.
Before the vote, Board Members expressed their thoughts about the past and future of TPS.
“At the heart of every conversation I have had with Dr. Garcia is ‘what’s best for students,’” said Board Member Lisa Keating, who emphasized the need for stability and consistency coming out of the pandemic. “Josh has demonstrated to me—consistently and persistently—that he has the skills, knowledge and capacity to effectively lead our district.”
Vice President Elizabeth Bonbright noted that Tacoma Public Schools, over the past 10 years, has evolved into a “lighthouse district.” School districts across the country look to TPS to learn how they can make the improvements that Tacoma has in the areas of academic rigor, graduation rates, expanding career and technical pathways, bringing equity of access to advanced placement, using data in innovative ways, and serving the whole child.
“We ain’t broken,” said Board Member Korey Strozier. “So we’re not looking for anyone to come in here and fix something. We are, however, looking for someone who can chart the path forward with knowledge and lived experience of this district and this community and an understanding of what it takes to not only move the needle but push the needle. I strongly believe that over the last nine, 10 years, Josh is the person to do just that.”
The Board voted 4 to 0 with Board Director Enrique Leon abstaining. Director Leon praised Dr. Garcia’s work and leadership yet made clear he would have preferred a search and competition for the superintendent’s position.
The Board’s action also launched the beginning of negotiations between the Board and Dr. Garcia on a superintendent contract. At a future business meeting, the Board will vote on the contact.
Dr. Garcia joined Tacoma Public Schools in March 2012 after serving as assistant superintendent, executive director and high school principal in the Federal Way School District. He started his career in the Riverview School District as a teacher, athletic director and dean of students.
After the Board’s vote, Deputy Superintendent Garcia thanked the Board, previous board members, community partners, all district staff members, TPS families, his wife and children—and his mentor and collaborator, Superintendent Santorno.
“I’d like to thank Carla—a true hero who has led with strategy, grace and compassion. I have learned from her, and I will work relentlessly to keep her dream to support every student, every day alive in all of us,” he said.
“I love talking about Tacoma, with the caveat, I don’t like talking about myself,” Dr. Garcia said. “I love this city. I love our community partners. I love our staff…I love our families and I love our students. I make mistakes, but I never quit, and I’ll never quit on our kids, and I’ll never quit on our community.
“Together is better,” he said. “I’m humbled and honored to be part of the next step on our shared journey.”
Watch the March 25 board meeting.
About Tacoma Schools
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...