After months of planning, Palm Beach County School District Superintendent Robert Avossa unveiled the district’s five-year plan to hundreds of local leaders Friday, outlining goals intended to reduce disparities among students across the county.
Avossa said his staff planned to put resources toward closing the gap between low- and high-achieving students. At the forefront is helping students who face obstacles outside their control, including English- language learners, students with special needs and those with behavioral issues.
“The reality is, if you’re a child who comes to this district and you have a couple things against you…you’re in trouble,” he said. “You’re in trouble in this district because we have not found a way to meet your needs.”
The district’s plan was unveiled at a luncheon attended by about 700 educators, politicians and business leaders at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. It was hosted by the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
Business leaders said they have a vested interest in education because the students of today are the workforce of tomorrow, and companies considering relocating take into consideration the caliber of the education available for employees’ children.
“Our ability to recruit largely depends on the quality of our schools,” said Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board. “You wouldn’t move to an area if you didn’t think your kids could get a good education.”
Avossa began working on the plan shortly after he was hired in June, holding conversations with stakeholders across the county. It was unanimously approved Wednesday after several revisions were made.
One of the goals is to increase the percentage of third-grade students reading at grade level. Avossa said that within the next five years he wants that number to reach 75 percent. Currently, about half of third-graders are meeting or exceeding reading-level standards.
Avossa said reading is critical, pointing to data showing that third-graders who score highest on the state’s reading test have a 98 percent chance of graduating. Those at the lowest level have a 64 percent chance of graduating, figures show.
Other initiatives include increasing high school graduation rates, fostering more post-graduation success through programs such as dual enrollment and industry certification, and ensuring middle-schoolers are prepared for high school.
District data shows the district’s graduation rate exceeds the state average. About 78 percent of students reach graduation, compared with 76 percent statewide.
“So many wonderful things happen in this district,” Avossa said, “and I want to be able to expand those for every community and every child.”
He said planned initiatives include focusing earlier on reading, identifying at-risk students and expanding teacher training.
Some of the changes stem from a survey filled out by educators, students, parents and community members that examined the areas of greatest concern in the district.
In the survey, students expressed a desire to decrease testing and improve transportation. Teachers and administrators reported they wanted stronger school leadership and an increased focus on career development and training.
The district plans to take the strategic plan on a tour through the county this month. District officials described Friday’s event as a call to action, inviting community members to get involved.
“We can’t do this work alone,” Avossa said.