Robert Avossa has something in common with many of today’s struggling students: as a child, English was his second language. His immigrant parents came to the U.S. from Italy, drawn by America’s economic opportunities and public education system. And for the first four years of his schooling, Avossa struggled mightily to develop his English skills.
Now, as superintendent of The School District of Palm Beach County in South Florida, he refuses to forget what he and his parents faced, and how many Palm Beach students and their families share similar challenges.
Avossa spent five years in a cabinet-level position in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and four years as superintendent of Fulton County Public Schools in Metro Atlanta — two progressive urban school districts that have made great improvements on behalf of low-income students and students of color — before accepting the top post in Palm Beach County in 2015.
He leads the nation's 11th-largest school district, serving more than 185 schools and 186,000 students who speak 150 languages and dialects. Providing parents, educators and the community with opportunities to have a voice in district and school decision-making is a hallmark of his leadership. Avossa regularly seeks out the input of parents and frequently discovers a common theme in these conversations: parents and teachers are frustrated with a top-down, bureaucratic approach of their school system.
To address this, Dr. Avossa has redirected resources out of the District office and into schools. In Fulton County, Avossa established four “learning communities” that put decision-making closer to classrooms and parents. In Palm Beach County, Avossa has condensed District offices and departments, redirecting $5.5 million in savings back to Title I schools.
Avossa’s one-year anniversary in Palm Beach County was marked with 21 Elementary Schools rated as D or F schools raising their grade to a C or higher and Palm Beach County outperforming all other large Districts in Florida in seven of eleven categories in the state accountability system, including English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. Avossa has also reduced out-of-school suspensions and rolled out a five-year strategic plan focused on closing the achievement gap for all students.
Dr. Avossa is a Broad Academy Fellow and a member of Chiefs for Change, an esteemed network of state and district education Chiefs. He serves locally on the boards for the American Heart Association, CareerSource Palm Beach County, Children’s Services Council, Criminal Justice Commission and Education Foundation of Palm Beach County.
Prior to becoming a Superintendent, Dr. Avossa spent 10 years as a Florida teacher and Principal. He is a University of South Florida graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Exceptional Education and Behavior Disorders as well as a Master’s Degree in Special Education. He earned his Doctorate Degree from Wingate University. Dr. Avossa and his wife, Kellee, have two children who attend Palm Beach County Public Schools.