New schools chief will be an in­sider

Board will con­sider only in­ter­nal can­di­dates to re­place Robert Avossa.

The Palm Beach Post - - LOCAL & BUSINESS - By An­drew Marra Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

In the search for the Palm Beach County public school sys­tem’s next leader, only in­ter­nal can­di­dates need ap­ply.

By a unan­i­mous vote, School Board mem­bers de­cided Wed­nes­day that the best way to en­sure con­ti­nu­ity af­ter Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Avossa’s sur­prise res­ig­na­tion an­nounce­ment last week is to con­sider only mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­place him.

And board mem­bers de­cided the search for a new leader should move quickly, say­ing they hope to name a new su­per­in­ten­dent next month.

Un­der the plan ap­proved Wed­nes­day, all school district of­fi­cials in­ter­ested in be­ing con­sid­ered for the top job must sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tions by 5 p.m. Fri­day.

Board mem­bers said they plan to re­view the ap­pli­ca­tions next week and cre­ate a short list of fi­nal­ists at a public meet­ing next Wed­nes­day.

Among the ad­min­is­tra­tors said to be po­ten­tial ap­pli­cants are Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent David Chris­tiansen; Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Don­ald Fen­noy; Chief Aca­demic Of­fi­cer Keith Oswald; As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent of Choice and In­no­va­tion Pete Li­cata; and Re­gional Su­per­in­ten­dent Frank Ro­driguez.

The board mem­bers’ de­lib­er­a­tions — their first public dis­cus­sions since Avossa an­nounced last week that he would step down in June — re­flected board mem­bers’ hope to keep the county’s schools on the same course de­spite the

un­ex­pected lead­er­ship change. Avossa has said he in­tends to step down in June to take a job with a Palm Beach Gar­dens pub­lish­ing com­pany.

“We are in a very dif­fer­ent

place from where we were when Dr. Avossa was hired,” School Board mem­ber Karen Brill said.

Board mem­bers took turns declar­ing their high sat­is­fac­tion with Avossa’s per­for­mance and his plans for changes within the school district, in­clud­ing a strate­gic plan that fo­cused the schools’ ef­forts on im­prov­ing key stu­dent-per­for­mance sta­tis­tics such as grad­u­a­tion rates and read­ing com­pre­hen­sion lev­els.

For that rea­son, they said, the best path for­ward is to ap­point some­one from Avossa’s staff who is fa­mil­iar with the district and ad­min­is­tra­tors’ plans.

“I’m look­ing for some­one who is com­mit­ted to Palm Beach County and com­mit­ted to this strate­gic plan,” board mem­ber Mar­cia An­drews said.

The ques­tion of whether the School Board would fo­cus on in­ter­nal can­di­dates or look out­side for can­di­dates was far from set­tled a week ago. Then, Brill said she was ner­vous about con­sid­er­ing only in­ter­nal can­di­dates with no prior su­per­in­ten­dent ex­pe­ri­ence.

But Avossa and sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions — in­clud­ing a coali­tion of busi­ness lead­ers and the teach­ers union — have called for the board to only con­sider in­ter­nal can­di­dates, and Brill said Wed­nes­day she had come to agree.

Avossa “has cul­ti­vated great lead­ers,” she said Wed­nes­day, adding that an out­sider “would likely un­ravel or undo the work that has been ac­com­plished.”

Board mem­bers set the pay range for the new su­per­in­ten­dent at be­tween $250,000 and $300,000, rea­son­ing that no can­di­date would de­mand a salary as high as Avossa’s since none has prior ex­pe­ri­ence as a su­per­in­ten­dent. Avossa was hired in 2015 at a $325,000 base salary, and his pay rose re­cently to $334,000

Board mem­bers de­cided that the next su­per­in­ten­dent should be signed to a five-year con­tract. Even though they con­ceded that the length of the con­tract is mostly sym­bolic, they said it would be im­por­tant to sig­nal to county res­i­dents that they hope the next su­per­in­ten­dent will stay in of­fice for at least that long.

“We haven’t had any­one here for five years in a long time,” An­drews said.

Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Avossa an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion last week.

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