May 12, 2016
Palm Beach County School Superintendent Reflects on First Year on Job

When Dr. Robert Avossa arrived in Palm Beach County nearly a year ago, he was tasked with managing the 11th largest school district in the country, with 184,000 students at 187 schools.

Avossa recently sat down with WPBF 25’s Tiffany Kenney to talk about his first year on the job.

“Overall I think I would give myself a C-minus, B-plus. I’m still learning what’s working in the district and what’s not. On engagement I would give myself a higher mark. I spent a lot of time in the community. I would give myself an A on engagement,” Avossa told Kenney,

His first months on the job got off to a bumpy beginning when school started in August.

A new bus-routing software program was rolled out prematurely.

Students all over the county were stranded at bus stops. Late buses were a problem weeks into the school year.

“Usually it takes us about 10 days to work things out, and it took us about 90 days because we had to go back and rewrite all the routes that had been ruined by this new computer program,” Avossa said. “A lot of those decisions were made before I got here, but that’s no excuse. We had to roll up our sleeves and get it done.”

To avoid a repeat, the district has given all drivers a pay raise, started a new training program and continues to actively recruit at job fairs.

Avossa said what’s most difficult is funding for this ever-growing school district that has seen a revolving door of superintendents over the last five years.

“This district is seven districts in one. You’ve got some parts of the district that are outperforming many in the Southeast, and we’ve got pockets of generational poverty that are very complicated,” he said.

The superintendent’s patience was tested in March when a fire-breathing performer accidentally set himself on fire at a crowded Atlantic High School pep rally.

The video quickly went viral.

“I was frustrated because we put kids in danger and we made national and local news for something that is not positive. And that’s not we want to do,” said Avossa.

That incident is one example of why Avossa is so active on social media.

“I can’t tell you how many times I find out about a concern or situation before I even get a call from the person impacted. Social media has changed the way we have to manage in these large, urban school districts. Rather than sit back and watch things unfold, I have to participate in it. I have to answer parents who hit me up on Twitter or send a message on Facebook to the district website or email. And that’s okay. That’s what I do. It means 24/7, and that’s what we have to do,” he said.

After six months of talking with more than 20,000 people in the community, this spring, the superintendent laid out his strategic plan which will be rolled out over the next five years.

It includes increasing reading by third grade, ensuring high school readiness, increasing the graduation rate and fostering post-graduate success.

“I’m very optimistic about the future. I think there are a lot of great things we can do, and I feel like we’ve set a good stage for the years to come,” he said.