Board grants Avossa highest rating; redraws closing school’s boundaries

The Palm Beach County School Board has cleared another hurdle on the path to closing its first traditional middle school in more than 25 years, tentatively agreeing Wednesday to reassign the 1,900 students living within Odyssey Middle School’s boundaries to five nearby schools.

The board’s seven members also unanimously paved the way for another first, Superintendent Robert Avossa’s first raise since taking the job more than two years ago. Though the amount of his salary bump has yet to be determined, they roundly praised his leadership and gave him marks that resulted in a “highly effective” overall rating.

Avossa passed the credit for that accomplishment to the district’s teachers, principals and staff.

“They’re driving the buses and doing the work,” Avossa said. “This is their evaluation, not mine.”

Wading through the repercussions of closing Odyssey and redrawing its boundaries on a months-shorter timeline than is common are among the most recent challenges in his administration.

For years, Odyssey has struggled to fill even half of its seats. But redirecting students promised to crowd other campuses — the nearest middle school in the area is almost full and three others aren’t far behind.

The proposed boundaries were crafted by staff, evaluated by a volunteer boundary committee and subject to public comment before Avossa made his recommendation to the board Wednesday.

The most significant impact will be felt at Christa McAuliffe Middle, driving enrollment at that school to more than 1,480 students in a campus built for about 1,270. Congress, Lantana and Woodlands would see enrollment pushed to 90 percent of capacity or higher. Only Carver Middle in Delray had significant available space.

The crowding would likely be temporary because the district plans to build a middle school in the growing western suburbs next to Sunset Palms Elementary in the next two or three years.

Odyssey, which sits in Boynton Beach west of Military Trail, had room for nearly 1,500 students, but more than 600 chose to go to nearby charter schools instead. Many others found routes via a choice or gifted programs to attend alternate public schools, leaving fewer than 700 on Odyssey’s rolls this fall.

The district will be leasing the Odyssey campus to South Tech Academy and South Tech Prep, a charter for grade six through 12.

Board members must vote a second time on the boundaries before they become official.

In their other big vote of the night, the board members were quick to praise Avossa’s leadership. “I believe you’ve done an amazing job,” Frank Barbieri said. Erica Whitfield credited Avossa for morale, “I don’t think it’s ever been so high.”

The conversation was punctuated by Barbieri’s complaint that The Palm Beach Post sought and published each board member’s evaluation of the superintendent. Barbieri said he was “disgusted” by the publication and angered that he wasn’t afforded time to speak to Avossa privately before his marks were revealed publicly. Chairman Chuck Shaw was disappointed that the focus was on Avossa’s raise — which could potentially run from $8,000 to $10,000 — and not on the progress under Avossa’s leadership.

Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson said, “What I appreciate about Dr. Avossa is he’s focused on the kids … I hope that he’s here for a long time.”

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