Published On: Mon, Jun 29th, 2015

Has Superman Finally Arrived?

 

C.-Ron-AllenIt’s been two weeks now since School superintendent Robert Avossa began as the district’s education chief and already many are raising eyebrows.

Facial expressions do not clearly convey their thoughts, but in the back of their minds, some are optimistic. I have been speaking to employees, parents and stakeholders. And what I have been hearing from them and seeing are expressions of hope: Hope that finally Palm Beach County School District will increase its ranking in long-term student success among other districts in the state, hope that the graduation rate of African American boys will mirror those of other similar districts in the country, and hope that instead of suspending students for trivial infractions, teachers will deploy strategies to get them more engaged and develop a love for school and learning.

My goals is for 90 percent of Palm Beach County students to graduate on time; 85 percent of Palm Beach County’s seniors will be eligible for admission to a college or university in Florida; and 100 percent of Palm Beach County’s graduates will be work-ready.Like many in the news media, I am somewhat cautious – largely because that’s a natural instinct for us and secondly, this is South Florida, the hotbed of flimflam artists who are always trying to make a quick dollar at the expense of hard-working taxpayers.I must admit, I am impressed by Avossa. I have spent much of my career here in Palm Beach County, and among my varied assignments was covering the school system. In fact, I date back to superintendent Tom Mills in 1988. And I cannot recall the time when a new or interim superintendent held a forum at the onset to hear from the stakeholders. As part of his 90-day plan, Avossa is conducting a series of public shows where he is listening to the community in all four quadrants of the county.

In an effort to be transparent and open with teachers, students, and the public, he has taken to social media. He is tweeting and he wants to hear from his clients.There is no doubt that Avossa can do what it takes to achieve those expectations. He did it during his four years as the top cheese in Fulton County, Ga.In fact, in talking to residents in both Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina and Fulton County, it was clear that Avossa was a no nonsense leader with a proven track record of increasing student achievement.

In Fulton County, for example, within his first two years on the job, Avossa shook up the district’s top brass after discovering that too many of them were not prepared for the challenges. Nearly half of principals and school leaders either left the district, were fired, or retired.And in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, one of the largest systems in the country, where he served as chief strategy and accountability officer, an area superintendent and as chief of staff, the district experienced significant student achievement improvement under his watch.  Already, I have seen some signs of his vision, with the movement of principals from high achieving schools to lower performing schools. Some have bristled at that move – but if you want to raise the level of those schools, who best to do so than proven leaders. After all, it’s either use resources from within or bring in your own, which would not sit too well with many. We all agree things need to improve, but again, do not expect changes too soon. A ship does not turn at the same pace as a car or even a semi-tractor trailer. It will take some time to cultivate a culture of excellence.

Someone said that they feared there will be challenges from the union. That’s a given. That’s the union’s role. But I am sure he is skilled enough to work for the union.  After all, his first order of business day one on the job after getting his coffee was meeting with the union. Now, that was a brilliant move.

Avossa has a tall order to fill, but based on the dance at the honeymoon, my gut feeling is that he will meet all expectations.Only time will tell is he is a superman or rather the superintendent who will move Palm Beach County from being ranked at 11th  by niche.com, a 13-year-old website that had previously ranked colleges, to being in the top fifth in the Sunshine State.

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  1. Barry Epstein says:

    Amen!

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