A Superintendent Who Isn’t Afraid to Take a Stand
Robert Avossa won't back down from controversial issues to help kids
Robert Avossa is an opportunist when it comes to advocating for kids. The superintendent of the tenth largest school district in the country, Palm Beach County, is working in a bit of a hot zone politically these days, as the current President spends a lot of time at his Mar-a-Lago home in the county. But along with the picketers and interruptions of traffic, Robert sees opportunities for discussions and teaching moments.
For example, he tells the story about how he arranged for the U.S. first lady and the first lady of China to visit a school while they were in town. He used the opportunity to voice his opinion to those two influential women on subjects that matter to him.
One subject that matters greatly to Robert is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA. This was a policy that allowed minors who were brought into the country without the proper paperwork to receive a two-year renewable deferment of deportation action. The policy was rescinded by the current presidential administration last September.
Robert comes by his concern for immigrant children honestly - he was one. He came to America from his birthplace of Italy as a child, and he knows what it is like to have to assimilate into a new culture and language. Last year he teamed up with the superintendent of Boston Public Schools and fellow first-generation immigrant, Tommy Chang, to write a powerful article about the need to make children feel welcome and not live in fear in this country, no matter their legal immigration status.
That fact that DACA is a controversial subject doesn’t deter Robert from taking a stand. As he says, “I have an obligation to share and use my position to move work forward for kids. This isn’t about the adults; this is about the kids. And the only way to improve outcomes is to invest in education."
“We have an obligation to push the federal discussion. We have an obligation to push the state discussion. And, certainly, here at home, I have an obligation, to tell the truth about what's working and what's not. But we can't hide behind politics either and we can't stoke the political controversy. It's not my position to step in and weigh in on some areas. But, in others, it is. I have no problem doing it.”
Robert is an advocate for kids, and he’s in a position to do something about it. That kind of candor and resolve is refreshing. It doesn’t always happen in the bureaucracy of education. I look forward to having more important and insightful conversations with Robert in the future.
About Dr. Robert Avossa
Dr. Robert Avossa is superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County in South Florida.
He is a Broad Academy Fellow and a member of Chiefs for Change, an esteemed network of state and district education Chiefs. He serves locally on the boards for the American Heart Association, CareerSource Palm Beach County, Children’s Services Council, Criminal Justice Commission, and Education Foundation of Palm Beach County.
Dr. Avossa is a University of South Florida graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Exceptional Education and Behavior Disorders, as well as a Master’s Degree in Special Education. He earned his Doctorate Degree from Wingate University.
Follow Dr. Robert Avossa on Twitter.
Watch an additional interview with Dr. Rod Berger and Dr. Robert Avossa here
- Houston Chronicle - DACA 'critically important' to Texas, higher education official says
- The Sacramento Bee - Immigrants with jobs, education worry that Trump will force them into the shadows
- PRI - Nearly 40 percent of DACA recipients are high school or college students. Now their future is in limbo.