Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa will resign in June to take a position at a Palm Beach Gardens publishing company, a move that he said will allow him more time to spend with family.
“This opportunity will allow me to spend the last part of my career impacting education at the national level while affording me more time to commit to my family,” he wrote.
The move stunned educators and sent school board members scrambling to make plans to find a replacement.
“I’m disappointed because I think we’ve made such huge progress, which I expect that we will continue,” board member Karen Brill said.
She added that Avossa had “put very good processes in place,” making it easier for his replacement to continue the work.
Avossa, 46, was widely seen as a rising star in the public education sector. He served on prominent national education organizations and his name had recently appeared on a speculative list of potential candidates to lead New York City’s public schools.
But with a son in high school and a daughter in middle school, Avossa said he was eager to move into a position that would be less time-consuming.
Avossa took the top job at the school district in June 2015 after serving as superintendent in Fulton County, Ga. In his 2 1/2-year tenure he appointed several former colleagues to top posts and remade much of the district’s organizational structure.
Last month, board members gave him top marks in his third annual review, raising his annual base salary to $334,750.
In his resignation letter, Avossa called for the school board to appoint one of his subordinates to replace him.
“I recommend the board strongly consider appointing an internal candidate that has intimate knowledge of our work and has demonstrated the ability to deliver results,” he wrote.
School board member Frank Barbieri said he agreed that the school district’s next leader should be someone already working in the district.
“I think we should hire somebody from within that’s very familiar with our plan,” Barbieri said, adding that board members “should move quickly.”
Avossa said in his new position he would help to oversee LRP Publications’ education products, which include newsletters, magazines, conferences and online seminars.
The company produces newsletters about educating students with disabilities, a field in which Avossa studied and worked as a teacher.
At a news conference Monday, Avossa told reporters he had not been searching for a job but was approached about the position late last year.
“This offer came to me unsolicited,” he said.
He and his wife weighed the offer during the holiday break before he accepted it, he said.
Avossa had not alerted school board members about his plan when The Palm Beach Post learned of his pending resignation Monday afternoon and began contacting board members to confirm.
As word spread, Avossa rushed to inform all seven board members personally, then released a resignation letter to school district staff.
“I choose to believe it was his desire to call board members first, obviously with Chairman Chuck Shaw being the first one,” board member Barbara McQuinn said. “But to go like it did, something went wrong.”
A retired principal and the board’s newest member, McQuinn said she worried that the timing of Avossa’s departure could disrupt long-term plans.
“We have too much momentum going,” she said.
School Board member Erica Whitfield said she was saddened by the news.
“I’m devastated, absolutely devastated,” she said. “I adore him. He’s been a very special leader.”
In his letter to the board, Avossa pointed to the district’s progress closing the minority achievement gap in math, reading and college level courses.
He also noted the district has no traditional F-rated schools for the first time in recent memory and that during his tenure teachers received “over a 9 percent raise” and the lowest paid workers saw their hourly earnings grow from $8 per hour to $10.75.
Avossa said these gains were the collective work of everyone from parents to principals and “more significant than any single individual.”