Fulton County School Superintendent Avossa to leave

Christopher Quinn contributed to this story

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa will leave his position to head up Palm Beach County schools in Florida.

Avossa, who headed Fulton schools for four years, was selected by the Palm Beach school board Thursday from among three finalists.

A Florida native, Avossa told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’s taking the job to be closer to family. Both his parents live about an hour away from Palm Beach, and his wife’s parents are also from nearby.

“In a way it’s like a homecoming for me,” Avossa said.

He has been a respected and innovative educator and was given yearly contract extensions after his initial 3-year contract.

He said there’s no tension between him and Fulton County school board members, and that he’s not being pressured to leave the district, the fourth-largest in Georgia with nearly 96,000 students.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be apart of this community,” Avossa said. “I’m not running from anything. I get along great with my board. I feel like personally I left the district better than I found it.”

Under Avossa’s tenure, graduation rates and standardized test scores improved, and he pushed for fewer standardized tests.

He took office in June 2011 and has shepherded the district through restructuring and instituted a five-year improvement plan. He led the schools to become the largest “charter” district in Georgia, which gives it freedom from many education mandates in exchange for meeting specified education goals. He praised charter schools and expanded options, but also was unafraid to lead the Fulton board in revoking charters of underperforming schools.

Under his leadership, Fulton has sent some management decisions down to schools and their school councils. Avossa has reorganized the district administration into “learning communities” that put experts in various academic disciplines closer to schools.

The Fulton County Board of Education congratulated Avossa and released a statement that says in part: “Our parents, community members and all stakeholders can rest assured that a succession plan is in place. There are excellent people in our own Fulton County School System to potentially serve in the interim.”

“The Board is confident that when the time comes to choose a successor, we will hire someone well suited to complete the work that has been started in our current strategic plan and to address the future needs of Fulton County Schools.

Avossa, 43, was considered a front-runner for the Florida position after being ranked the top choice last week by five of the seven board members.

He was also a finalist for the superintendent position in Montgomery County, Md., but he told reporters a the Palm Beach Post Thursday that “Florida feels like home to me.”

“I’m very excited about joining the team here in Palm Beach County,” he told board members moments after being selected.

The effort led to a pool of 72 applicants, including several sitting superintendents, three internal candidates and two former superintendents from some of Florida’s largest county schools districts.

The Italian born Avossa, his family moved to the U.S. when he was 4, came to Atlanta from Charlotte, where he was the chief strategy and accountability officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina.