By Nicole Shine/Garden Grove Journal
As the next superintendent of Garden Grove Unified District, Gabriela Mafi is excited and maybe a wee bit daunted by taking on the role that her predecessor, Laura Schwalm, held for 14 years.
“The shoes are like this big to fill,” Mafi said, holding her hands wide. “Laura’s an icon.”
Though her job might be a new one, Mafi is no stranger to the district. She has worked there off and on since 2002, most recently as assistant superintendent of secondary education. In that job, she oversees operations and instructional programs at seven high schools, 10 intermediate schools, two continuation schools, and two adult education centers. She also runs the Regional Occupational Program.
When she steps into Schwalm’s shoes on July 1, she’ll head a district that’s the county’s third-largest, with a student body that’s more than half Latino.
That Mafi is a Latina was a factor in District Trustee Lan Nguyen’s decision to pick her.
“She represents the community,” Nguyen said at the board’s meeting Tuesday night, where Mafi’s appointment was announced. “Many may not know she came from an economiically struggling family.”
The fifth of six children, Mafi was raised by a Mexican American mother who immigrated from Cuidad Juarez to South Los Angeles, where she met and married Mafi’s father.
Mafi herself married young. She left high school early and earned a high school equivalency. She worked her way through college, attending several community colleges before transferring to Cal State Long Beach. She later earned an M.S. and Ed.D. at USC.
She was first hired by the district in 2002 as principal of Rosita Elementary School. In 2005, she left to take the job of executive director of the Ed.D. program at USC.
She came back a year later as the director of personnel, and was promoted to director of 7-12 instructional services in 2006.
“She’s a “home-grown talent,” according to Nguyen.
“We have been able to observe this candidate for a long time and this is one of the best decisions here for this district,” he said.
Going forward, one of Mafi’s first tasks will be updating the district’s vision statement through a series of public meetings.
“It’s been many years since we looked at it, and we want one that reflects our shared values,” she explained.
Contact the writer on Twitter at @nicolekshine.