SAN ANTONIO — Uvalde's newly-named interim superintendent has developed a reputation as a sort of fixer, frequently called on to steady shaken schools.
Trustees Wednesday tapped Gary Patterson to lead the UCISD until the board finds a permanent replacement for retiring superintendent Hal Harrell.
A statement from UCISD said Patterson is expected to join the district on Nov. 1, and Harrell will become the Superintendent Emeritus. Trustees accepted Harrell's retirement Tuesday without disclosing details about any separation agreement.
Patterson will learn district operations from Harrell and will work with the district while The Law Firm of Walsh Gallegos and Ann Dixon continue to the search for a superintendent.
“The board is grateful to have Mr. Patterson coming to assist us with his leadership during this transition period. His experience and skills will definitely be an asset to our district and our community. Mr. Patterson may only be here temporarily, but we know he is the right person for the support of our students and staff at this moment.” shared Luis Fernandez, president of Uvalde CISD Board of Trustees.
Nearly five months after a gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary, Patterson is charged with stabilizing emotions and bridging divides in the small city.
It's not the first challenge he's accepted, though it is certainly the most daunting.
"Gary Patterson is choosing to do this," said Roland Toscano, who replaced Patterson as East Central ISD superintendent in 2014. Toscano worked for Patterson as a principal, prior to Patterson's short-lived retirement.
"He doesn't have to do this, and I think that's an important part of why he's the right man for the job," Toscano continued.
Patterson joined ECISD in 2000. He navigated a messy school board election almost immediately after his arrival. The state eventually appointed a monitor to oversee board activities.
During that time, Toscano says Patterson demonstrated an exceptional listening ability.
"He's just calm," Toscano said. "He's authentic. He's genuine."
Patterson left ECISD in 2014. Five years later, the district named its $11 million performing arts center after the former superintendent.
In the last seven years, Patterson has acted as interim superintendent for at least six different school districts across Texas.
He guided La Vernia ISD after a sex abuse scandal rocked school leadership. He led D'Hanis ISD, just miles from Uvalde, during the 2020 COVID year.
In the last decade, Patterson has also substituted as superintendent at Falls City ISD, Pflugerville ISD, Lake Dallas ISD, and Lewisville ISD.
He frequently works as a school board consultant, too. He most recently advised Wichita Falls' trustees on financial matters.
Toscano says Patterson is "masterful" at aligning school decisions to community values.
"He wants to help communities make progress and move towards healing," Toscano said. "It's his life's work."