Robert Avossa became superintendent of the Fulton County School System in June. As superintendent, he is responsible for the leadership, administration and management of 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 school systems in the country. He also previously served as one of the district’s area superintendents and as chief of staff to the superintendent, and before that spent more than a decade in Florida as a teacher and principal.
He and his wife, Kellee, 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 feelings about his new job, his career and education in general. Here are his answers. This is the second of two parts. The first was published in the July 15-28 of the Sandy Springs Reporter.
Q: Did your experiences as a young immigrant impact your beliefs about America’s educational system?
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.
Q: What attributes do you think a great teacher possesses?
A: Like my soccer coach, a great teacher builds connections with their students. He or she helps remove barriers that may have hindered their success. For me, it was an inability to grasp how chemistry, a subject that didn’t interest me, could connect to the game of soccer, something I loved. Once that barrier was gone, it unlocked the door and I became excited about all types of learning. My wife is a former high school chemistry teacher, so it’s unbelievable to her that I wasn’t excited about science! But in truth, great teachers search for a way to inspire students and make a connection; to make what they are learning real to them and then show how it applies in life.
Also, for many students, teachers are as close to them as their parents or other family members. These relationships are key to building their self-esteem, championing them to try new things, pushing them to go as far as they can, and sometimes helping them brush off the disappointment that comes with a temporary setback. But most importantly, these teachers care about students and give them the support they need at that moment in life.
Q: What role does a parent play in helping educate their child?
A: I believe strongly in partnerships between schools and the community, and this includes making sure parents have opportunities to be engaged in their child’s education. Communication lines should be open between the school and each parent. This goes both ways – not only should the school make it a priority to initiate contact, but the parent should as well.
Q: If you weren’t involved in education, what would you be doing?
A: Like any good Italian, I love food and love to spend time in the kitchen and with my family. Growing up, my parents had an Italian restaurant and it was there that I learned how to work with people and serve others. Education is my passion, but so many of the life lessons my parents taught me started in the kitchen and around the dinner table. I could see myself opening a family restaurant like theirs or at least making sure my family gets their share of good Italian meals.