by Theo Lebryk

In May 2014, Superintendent Karen Garza restructured the administrative regions, reducing the eight clusters to five administrative regions. Stuart, formerly part of Cluster 3 under Assistant Superintendent Douglas Tyson, now joins Thomas Jefferson, Marshall, Falls Church and McLean as part of Region 2 under Assistant Superintendent Fabio Zuluaga.

Garza made the move “to better align our system, improve our decision making, and facilitate stronger and more differentiated support of our schools.” The new system groups schools of different demographics and levels of academic achievement together. Region 2 is the largest of the regions in terms of population with 36,800 students. Under the new system, the regional superintendents are granted more influence on day to day activities than the former cluster superintendents.

Zuluaga grew up in Columbia with 11 siblings and still retains dual citizenship with his native country. When he came to America, he knew three English phrases: “yes”, “thank you”and “of course”. Immigrating to America as someone who speaks English as a second language (ESOL), Zuluaga is especially pleased with the diversity found inside Region 2. “It’s a wonderful region, very diverse with immigrants like myself,” said Zuluaga.

Throughout his educational career, Zuluaga has made efforts to reach out to students of all ethnicities and backgrounds. “I’m very passionate about education. Education is the best way to break cycles of poverty.” He advises that immigrant students get to know American culture, rules, and people while not forgetting their roots. “Don’t forget about who you are, your language, your heritage, and traditions. You can become a very successful person,” says Zuluaga.

Zuluaga began his educational career as a chemistry teacher in the Kansas City, MO. school system. He later moved to Fayette County in Kentucky where he served as an elementary school principal and created the only Spanish Immersion program in the county. As Zuluaga worked his way up the administrative ladder, he kept his eye on FCPS, after which he modeled the bilingual program. “I always wanted to work in a school system that was nationally recognized.”

Zuluaga got his chance when he took over as Assistant Superintendent of Cluster 8 (Oakton, South Lakes and Westfield) in 2009. At the end of last school year, Garza reorganized the regions

Now in charge of Region 2, Zuluaga has made a point to get out and get to know the community. In recent weeks, he has visited Stuart to watch the Bell Game, to oversee a math meeting and to attend the PTSA meeting. “Stuart High School is a great high school with a lot of traditions,” said Zuluaga. “I like [the] diversity in the minds of the people. You have kids from all over the world… The kids have an international mind. They’ve been exposed to other kids, other cultures.”

While Zuluaga believes that the Stuart students, teachers and leadership have the ingredients to be one of the best schools in FCPS and in the U.S., there is still room for improvement. He exhibited optimism about the low math Standards of Learning test scores after sitting in on an Algebra I meeting on Nov. 11. His ultimate vision is to get “universal coverage” for students so that all students, including those with learning or language barriers, are getting the best teachers in the country. To do this, he stresses retaining old teachers, developing new teachers, and making sure teachers feel comfortable at Stuart.

Photo credits: Brianna Ford