October 11, 2013ATLANTA – Since being hired in May 2011, Fulton School Superintendent Robert Avossa has set to work putting his own stamp on Georgia's fourth largest school district, aiming not just for state accolades but for national prominence.
While there has been some grumbling about the pace of the reforms and the high expectations demanded of staff, the results have impressed the Fulton School Board, which voted last month to extend Avossa's contract through May 2016. That tenure would make Avossa the longest serving superintendent for Fulton Schools since 2002, and nearly double the average stay for superintendents in Georgia.
Avossa's salary will increase to $275,000 a year – from the current $238,000 annually. That's substantial, but still below the pay for superintendents in Gwinnett and DeKalb and less than half the figure Atlanta Public Schools is floating to try and land a leader for the troubled school district. But the incentive to remain in Fulton goes beyond financial, he said.
"I've got school-aged children who are the major priority in my life," said Avossa, who came to Fulton from Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) schools. "When I thought about the kind of school system available to me, Fulton County was very attractive…particularly [schools] in North Fulton."
He said the opportunity to raise his family in a community with good schools, find a church to become a part of and "engage in the process of improving outcomes for all children" created the perfect package of what he was looking for in employment.
However, should Avossa seek to end his contract before June 1, 2016, a $100,000 buyout clause is in place. When pointed out that sum could be pocket change for some employers who wish to lure Avossa and pay the tab, the superintendent said his investment in the community trumps the lure of greener pastures.
"We are involved in this [community] as a family and I'm vested in the outcomes of the school system," he said. "This is the place I call home now."
Veronica Buckman, who is the co-president of the PTSA at Cambridge High School, welcomes the news the superintendent will be around for several more years.
"I have to imagine parents will be pleased with Dr. Avossa's contract extension since it allows him to further manage the bold goals offered in Fulton's strategic plan and an opportunity for him to witness the innovations in education launched by the new charter system governance structure among area high schools," said Buckman.
Big changes to district under Avossa's watch
Tags: Education News & School Sports
ATLANTA – Avossa's changes to Fulton Schools over the past two years have been impactful – and not without some growing pains. He spent his first year visiting each of the district's 100 schools, watching the wheels turn, evaluating what worked and what did not and then firmly began taking action.
Avossa saw a top-heavy model that focused all governance firmly at the central office level, with red tape and bureaucracy embedded in the most simple of decisions. One of his first moves was to create four learning communities, each operating as a mini school system with its own associate superintendent and staff to handle the needs of the schools within its community.
"No one size fits all, so I decentralized authority so that each [learning community] can manage their needs based on their own situation," said Avossa, adding the move to a charter system last year also provides more customized programs for schools.
This is particularly important, he said, when you consider the diversity that permeates Fulton Schools. The district contains the state's highest performing schools as well as the lowest performing schools, is nearing a 50 percent poverty level and has a growing base of non-English speakers.
Avossa also implemented a strategic plan last year that laid out the district's goals for graduation rates and college and career readiness by 2017.
One of the most visible changes in the school system is in the area of personnel. Avossa is quick to point out that 60 of 100 principals in place on the day he took office are no longer in those roles. Changes were also made to the majority of staff positions at the cabinet level, as well as dozens of positions at the assistant principal level. Each move, he said, was necessary to ensure the best people were in control of student achievement, primarily at the school leader position.
"As the superintendent, the most important lever available to me is to pick the best principals and remove the lower performers. End of discussion. I don't apologize for it. It's a major priority of this administration and I will continue to hold people accountable," said Avossa.
He said good principals attract the best teachers, gain the confidence of the community and improve the outcomes of students. With the stakes so high at the state and national level for academic achievement, it's the most important element of a school.