Robert Avossa became superintendent of Fulton County’s public schools in June. He heads a district with more than 92,000 students, 101 schools, 12,000 employees and an $803 million general fund budget.
Before coming to Fulton County Schools, Avossa served as chief strategy and accountability officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, one of the largest systems in the country. He held posts as one of the district’s area superintendents and as chief of staff to the superintendent. Before that, he spent more than a decade in Florida as a teacher and principal.
He and his wife have two school-aged children who will attend Fulton County schools.
Sylvia Small, a regular contributor to Reporter newspapers, recently caught up with Avossa and posed some questions about his new job, his career and education in general. This article is the first of two parts reporting his answers. The second will be published in a future edition of the Sandy Springs Reporter.
Q: Why did you apply for the job in Fulton County?
A: When I was with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as its chief strategy and accountability officer, I was continually examining other school systems that produced excellent outcomes for students and that were cutting-edge educational leaders, such as Fulton County. Whenever possible, you want to form relationships with other districts that are doing things well so you can share ideas and learn from one another.
Education is a business where you are all in it together to help kids succeed. Our goal is to make each and every child’s life the best it can be by providing educational opportunities that unlock [his or her] potential.
I came to know the Fulton County School System through my research on accountability systems and other districts that were doing well in that area. Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Fulton County are both high achieving school systems that share many similarities – CMS is a little larger in size, but otherwise the districts are very similar. Both share similar organizational cultures and have the same challenges and opportunities when it comes to helping students succeed and engaging the community.
I feel perfectly at home here, and my wife, Kellee, is looking at houses so we can put down some roots. She and our two children – we have a little girl entering kindergarten this fall and our son will start third grade – are looking forward to calling Fulton County home and joining its schools.
Q: What goals have you set for your first year?
A: It’s difficult to set goals for an entire first year, so I’ve begun by looking at the first 90 days. It’s critically important that I take the appropriate time to listen and learn so I can better understand Fulton’s culture.
I have three immediate priorities for these 90 days: (1) establish an efficient and orderly transition of leadership that keeps a focus on student achievement and effective day-to-day operations; (2) develop a productive and collaborative relationship with staff, community, and the school board; and (3) create opportunities to listen broadly to multiple community and stakeholder groups.
So far, this is going very well. Over the past month and continuing into the summer, I have been meeting with elected officials and other key members of the community to understand how we may build stronger relationships. Once the new school year begins, I’ll be able to engage with teachers, students and parents, and I really look forward to that.
Q: Did your experiences as a young immigrant impact your beliefs about America’s educational system?
A: I was 4 years old when my parents moved us from Naples, Italy, to Florida. Being so young, it was easier for me to acclimate socially and educationally, but it still wasn’t without a struggle. I took some ESOL classes and I remember the difficulty of learning English, especially when I would go home and still hear Italian spoken at the dinner table. But, this experience made me stronger and, later on, a better educator.
Children are thirsty for knowledge and want to communicate with others. We need to look at each child as an individual and imagine the potential within and find ways to help them open up and shine.
For me, it was during high school when I discovered my interest in teaching. My soccer coach was also my chemistry teacher, and while I was successful on the soccer field, I wasn’t doing so well in that class. My coach helped me see the relationship between science and sports, and I was hooked after that. I wanted to become a teacher and help others make those connections.