PBC superintendent named to ‘Chiefs for Change’ education group

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa
Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa has been named a member of Chiefs for Change, an education advocacy group created by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education-reform think tank.

Avossa is one of the six new members appointed to the national non-profit, which now comprises 17 present and former education leaders.

The new members also include two other Florida educators: Desmond Blackburn, superintendent of Brevard County’s public schools; and Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of Orange County’s public schools.

Other members include the past or present education chiefs of Nevada, New Mexico, Tennessee, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

The group split off last year from the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a think tank founded by Bush to promote his education-reform policies, and no longer receives financial support from it.

Avossa, the former superintendent of Fulton County, Ga., took the top job in Palm Beach County’s schools in June.

Teachers: Administrators are intimidating student whistle blowers

Cheryl McKeever (2009 Palm Beach Post file photo)
Cheryl McKeever (2009 Palm Beach Post file photo)

Two Palm Beach Lakes teachers have alerted Superintendent Robert Avossa that they believe their principal and the area superintendent are harassing and intimidating students who spoke out about their lack of a geometry teacher at a school board meeting earlier this week.

They also repeat claims the students made after school Thursday that Principal Cheryl McKeever told the geometry students they don’t have a teacher because they ran off the job candidate.

McKeever did not respond to comment Friday morning.

But the students’ treatment at the hands of both McKeever and Area Superintendent Camille Coleman were the subject of emails to Avossa.

According to one email: “I would like to tell you that there is a high degree of intimidation by the Head Principal, Dr. McKeever.

“Yesterday in 7th Period, she summoned the kids into the auditorium and berated them about this issue,” the teacher wrote Friday morning.

The teacher went on to say that McKeever threw the blame on the students, saying, “The kids do not have a teacher because they ran him off, implying that their issue was one of their making.”

The teacher continued: “I will not sit back and tolerate blatant harassment and intimidation and victim blaming by anyone. Both Dr. McKeever AND area superintendent, Coleman (I believe was her name) have both attempted this. In fact, Ms. Coleman showed a level of disrespect that is unbecoming her position to the kids’ faces.”

Coleman told the Palm Beach Post Friday that she spoke to the students after the meeting per the direction of School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw.

“I noted their concerns, discussed possible resolutions and assured the that these concerns would be addressed,” Coleman said in a email.

A second teacher also emailed the superintendent about Thursday’s fallout:

“One of the students who was at the school board yesterday just came and told me he was put in a room …  asked questions and then asked to sign an affidavit about his complaints outside the presence of his parents. This is just wrong,” the teacher wrote.

Coleman said she was not at these meetings, but a representative from the district’s personnel office was.

“Several of the issues brought forward by the student required follow-up. Most importantly, the principal was directed to ensure that a certified teacher covers the class-load full-time as opposed to the math coach supporting a substitute,” Coleman wrote.

Sophomores Joseph Trahan and Lemuel Gadson said they were interviewed individually in the presence of Darron Davis, an employee in the district’s human resources department.

Gadson said he felt he was called in to be interrogated about speaking at the board meeting and not the issue he, his classmates and their parents have been battling most of the year – the lack of a geometry teacher for an honors class.

Gadson, a basketball and football player, left Palm Beach Gardens High, a school regarded for its athletics program to attend Palm Beach Lakes’ Legal Academy.

And despite the rough time he’s had with math, he and the others who attended the board meeting, were most concerned that the school as a whole not get a black-eye.

“My parents are disgusted with this situation. I can’t tell you how many times they said I can’t believe you left Gardens to go to Lakes, but I love Palm Beach Lakes. A lot of kids feel the same way, they just don’t want to talk about it.”





Dreyfoos biology teacher lands PBC’s Teacher of the Year; students get one day test reprieve

A 16-year teaching veteran who heads the biology department at Dreyfoos School of the Arts got a surprise visit from the superintendent and a new title: Palm Beach County’s Teacher of the Year.

Stephen Anand has been recognized several times in his career for his good work. He was a Dwyer Award winner once and a finalist two other times. (An earlier version of this post erroneously reported he was a three-time finalist) He was also named the 2011 Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Check back this afternoon to hear what students and colleagues have to say about Anand’s good work.



From reporter Gurman Bhatia:

Biology teacher Stephen Anand was presiding over an open-book test at Dreyfoos School of the Arts Tuesday morning when Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa and a camera-toting entourage barged in to announce Anand is the county’s Teacher of the Year.

While Anand stood slack-jawed in surprise, his students rejoiced.

“You are the best teacher ever!” the ninth-graders cheered.

“I wish I had showered this morning,” was Anand’s first reaction.

Anand does not run the typical biology class.

A genetics lesson in his hands created walls full of faces – the would-be children that came from a make-believe pairing of students in the class. Each set of ‘parents’ combined their genes on paper and deciphered what the resulting child would look like – and then they drew them.

Anand isn’t just about science. His desk is equal parts puzzle-loving nerd and soccer coach – In addition to scientific decor, adorned with photos of the girls team and their awards.

Teaching runs in Anand’s family. His mother taught at Olympic Heights High west of Boca Raton. And he married a teacher. Lalena Anand teaches at Berkshire Elementary.

Anand, a Florida Atlantic University graduate, started his 16-year career as an English teacher at Dreyfoos and then transitioned to biology. He was awarded the Dwyer Award in 2012 and was a finalist in 2006 and 2008. He was also named the 2011 Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Biology Teachers.

“The best thing about him is that he is really helpful,” said Marilynn Howard, Anand’s colleague and a former countywide teacher of the year. When two teachers were absent Tuesday, Anand stepped in to make lesson plans for all of their classes, she said.

He makes it look easy, even when it’s not.

“It is a profession that is the most rewarding but it is also the most challenging,” Anand said. His advice to those starting their careers: “Stick with it. Find a mentor.”

And maybe, one day, the superintendent will honor them as he did Anand on Tuesday.

“There are a lot of good teachers,” said Avossa. “But very few great and exceptional teachers.”

Anand gets $1,000 along with his new title and he will represent the district in the upcoming statewide teacher of the year competition. Anand’s colleagues celebrated with cake and a lunch. His students got a one-day reprieve from the test.

VIDEO: Coral Reef Ele. worker Glorene Jacobs shocked to win award

Glorene Jacobs of Coral Reed Elementary is surprised to learn she is the school district's school-based employee of the year.
Glorene Jacobs of Coral Reed Elementary is surprised to learn she was selected as the school district’s school-based employee of the year.

Glorene Jacobs, an administrative assistant at Coral Reef Elementary, clearly didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary as she walked down a school hallway Monday morning.

But after turning a corner, she found Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa waiting for her with flowers — and a roomful of co-workers and school district officials cheering behind him.

Jacobs, who has worked at the school west of Lantana for four years, was selected as this year’s school-based employee of the year for Palm Beach County’s public schools.

Watch the surprise announcement here.

Students must wait until mid-May for SAT results – but they liked the changes, says College Board

testingStudents aren’t due to get the results of last week’s new SAT until mid-May. But the College Board is reporting the results of a survey of some 8,000 of those test-takers Saturday.

According to the College Board:

  • 71% of students said the test reflected what they’re learning in school.
  • By a 6 to 1 margin, students said they preferred the format of the new SAT over the previous version of the test.
  • 75% of students said the Reading Test was the same as or easier than they expected.
  • 80% of students said the vocabulary on the test would be useful to them later in life, compared with 55% in March 2015.
  • 59% of students said the Math section tests the skills and knowledge needed for success in college and career.


And if you longingly missed all that obscure vocabulary that once littered the college admissions exam, here’s a fun read: The College Board’s announcement when it ditched the ‘recondite’ litany.


New York — Throughout its 100-year history, the abstruse vocabulary words of the SAT® have engendered prodigious vexation in millions of examinees annually. On Saturday, Jan. 23, students across the country participated in the terminal transpiration of the SAT in its habituated gestalt.

To adumbrate the changes to be manifest in future administrations of the assessment: The new SAT will be more trenchant and pellucid, and the format will no longer pertinaciously reward students who punctiliously engage in the antediluvian praxis of committing idiosyncratic words to memory.

College Board President David Coleman promulgated, “Your invectives and maledictions have been heard. Clemency has been granted.”

Many within the College Board and the academic community expressed a paucity of maudlin or mawkish emotion in response to the announcement.

“This is a new beginning for the SAT. Gone are obscure vocabulary words and tricky logic questions that are disconnected from the work students do every day,” said Stacy Caldwell, vice president of the SAT Program at the College Board. “Moving forward, students will encounter a test that focuses on the few things that matter most for college, work, and life. We believe these changes will benefit students and educators alike.”




Avossa: New plan will help schools teach “all students, not just some”

Avossa Dais
Superintendent Robert Avossa speaks Friday at the Education Forecast 2016 event at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach (Photo courtesy of the Palm Beach County School District)

Citing statistics showing deep disparities in how students fare in Palm Beach County’s public schools, Superintendent Robert Avossa unveiled a new strategic plan Friday that he said would help schools to provide a “world-class education for all students, not just some.”

Speaking before about 800 educators and business and political leaders at the Kravis Center in downtown West Palm Beach, Avossa said that schools’ money and resources would be redirected to focus on four new goals approved by the school board Wednesday.

Those goals are: raising the portion of third-graders reading at grade level from 51 to 75 percent, raising the high school graduation rate for district-operated schools from 85 to 90 percent, and increasing high school and post-graduate readiness.

To illustrate the disparities, he laid out several statistics that illustrated what he called telling markers of which students succeed and which don’t.

Third-graders who score in the highest level on the state’s reading test have a 98 percent chance of graduating, he said, while those who score in the lowest level have just a 64 percent likelihood.

Eighth-graders who receive three or more suspensions in a year have only a 1 in 3 chance of graduating, he said.  And less than 60 percent of students who speak English as a second language go on to graduate high school on time.

While Palm Beach County is the highest-performing of Florida’s large school districts by many measures, he said that too many students struggle. The most challenged group: poor male students who grew up speaking a language other than English, he said.

If you’re a student in Palm Beach County schools who happens to fit that profile, “you’re in trouble,” he said. “We’ve not found a way to meet your needs.”

Plans for tackling the new goals are still being worked out, he said, but include concentrating more resources on teaching reading in students’ early years, identifying at-risk students before they are suspended, revamping teacher training, and expanding Pre-K programs for some of the county’s neediest students.

The event was hosted by the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

Lofty new goal for Palm Beach County 3rd graders: Ambitious or unrealistic?

Palm Beach School Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with 2nd-grade student Sarah Walker, 8, as she eats breakfast at Lincoln Elementary School Monday, August 17, 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with a 2nd-grade student at Lincoln Elementary School. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa is proposing a lofty goal for Palm Beach County’s third-graders. So lofty, in fact, that he concedes that many people may consider it impossible.

Avossa is calling for 75 percent of the county’s third-graders to be reading at grade level within five years. Last year, scarcely more than half did.

It’s the most ambitious of the four metrics that Avossa says should be used to measure the success of his new strategic plan, which aims to realign resources and employees across the school system.

(The other three include raising the high school graduation rate to 90 percent and increasing high-school and post-graduate readiness).

School Board members Frank Barbieri, Marcia Andrews and Debra Robinson (File photo/Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)
School Board members Frank Barbieri, Marcia Andrews and Debra Robinson pushed for a more ambitious goal. (File photo)

But Avossa says he thinks the goal is attainable, even though he admits it’s “a stretch goal.”

“We’re going to throw everything at it,” he told Extra Credit. “My goal is to rally all the troops to say in Palm Beach County, as a community, we’ve got to get three-fourths of the kids reading at grade level by third grade.”

“When you set goals, they should be ambitious,” he added, “but they should also be attainable. You don’t want a whole lot of discouraged troops out there.”

If approved by the school board today, that 75-percent goal will be a key component of his strategic plan, which is set for a high-profile unveiling Friday at the Kravis Center in downtown West Palm Beach.

Such an ambitious goal wasn’t part of Avossa’s original plan.

Last week, he suggested that the school district’s stated aim should be to have 65 percent of third-graders reading at grade level in five years.

Last year, just 51 percent of the county’s third-graders were at that level, as measured by their scores on the Florida Standards Assessment. So a jump to 65 percent by 2021 would certainly be a large one.

District records show that the over the last five years the reading-competency rate for third-graders has not risen at all. In fact it dropped last year, from 55 percent to 51 percent, as the state moved to a new test and more difficult standards.

But Avossa’s proposal seemed low to three school board members, who told him last week that they wanted to see the goal set at 80 percent instead.

“I’m just not interested in dreaming little dreams,” school board member Debra Robinson said.

She said that by setting the bar even higher, “it would really, truly be all hands on deck.”

Her suggestion for an 80-percent goal was endorsed by board members Marcia Andrews and Frank Barbieri.

“I think that would put pressure on you to put the budget in the right place,” Barbieri told Avossa.

Goals, of course, are just theoretical targets. But Avossa told board members he wanted to set ones that would be “realistic and achievable.”

Robinson, Barbieri and Andrews disagreed. Setting even higher goals, they argued, would force educators to think even more ambitiously and, perhaps, act more ambitiously.

“This is almost like a life or death thing for these kids,” Robinson said.

Two other board members, Karen Brill and Erica Whitfield, said they worried that 80 percent was too high, but neither opposed the suggestion.

“It worries me a bit,” Brill said, “but if we can do an aspirational goal of 80 percent….then I’m all on board for 80 and 90 percent.”

“But it’s going to be very hard to get there,” she warned.

After that meeting, Avossa revised the goal up, from 65 to 75 percent.

It’s not quite the 80-percent target that the three board members requested, but it’s far higher than what it had been.

“They challenged me,” Avossa said. “They said think bigger, think broader. Let’s push the system.”

He said that to pursue it, he expects to make major changes to how the schools teach in kindergarten through third grade, along with a “big play” in Pre-K. He said he expected to announce more details in the next few months.

Here’s a breakdown of how 3rd graders performed on state reading tests in recent years:

Students reading at grade level in 3rd grade
Students reading at grade level in 3rd grade (Source: Palm Beach County School District)

School board may require lobbyists to register, disclose activities

School Board members Frank Barbieri, Marcia Andrews and Debra Robinson (File photo/Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)
School Board members Frank Barbieri, Marcia Andrews and Debra Robinson (File photo)

People who try to win business or influence policy decisions at the Palm Beach County School District would have to register as lobbyists under a proposed new rule.

Lobbyists would have to disclose any companies that they work for, as well as any professional or personal ties to school district employees. They would also have to reveal their lobbying activities and expenses.

School district administrators say they are proposing the new policy as a way to “ensure that the public has full knowledge of who is attempting to influence the decisions that affect School Board policy.”

The move comes amid a heavy lobbying campaign by the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, which has been pushing school board members to allow millions of dollars in prospective sales tax revenue to be redirected from schools to private museums and cultural centers.

Officials are also bracing for a lobbying push by the county’s charter schools, which are expected to fight for a piece of any sales tax revenue raised if a tax increase is approved this year.

But School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw said the proposal has been in the works for more than a year,  part of an effort to create the same transparency already in place for lobbying in county and city governments.

“The important thing is that we know and that people have identified themselves as lobbyists,” Shaw said. “Sometimes people talk to us and you’re not sure where they’re coming from.”

The policy carves out exemptions for union officials, school-affiliated parent groups, such as PTAs, and company sales representatives.

School board members are expected to discuss the proposed new policy on Wednesday, although no formal vote is planned.

The county government and the county’s 38 cities already require lobbyists to register.

Resigning WPB principal decried “inappropriate” handling of school investigation

Source: Google Maps
Everglades Elementary School (Source: Google Maps)

Eleven days before she resigned abruptly this week, the principal of Everglades Elementary School complained to school district administrators about how they handled a harassment complaint at her school, including “how the victim was treated.”

Amie Souder
Amie Souder

In a Feb. 11 email obtained by Extra Credit, Principal Amie Souder objected to how the school district investigated a complaint by the school treasurer, who accused the previous principal of sneaking into the West Palm Beach-area’s school’s back office in November to berate her.

The investigation found that the previous principal, Tara Dellegrotti-Ocampo, now the principal of Atlantic High School, “verbally abused” the treasurer during an argument about the placement of business’ banners at the school.

Souder, who replaced Dellegrotti-Ocampo at the school this year, objected that the investigation – which resulted in a letter of reprimand to Dellegrotti-Ocampo – failed to assign blame to other school employees who she said were involved in the incident.

“Not only do I not agree with the results,” she wrote, “but it was handled completely inapropriately [sic] on multiple levels, including but not limited to how the victim was treated.”

Souder did not elaborate on the treatment of the school’s treasurer.

Tara Dellegrotti-Ocampo
Tara Dellegrotti-Ocampo

But in the email, she expressed frustration that the investigation did nothing to discipline “the 3 employees on my campus who both initiated and participated in this incident.” Her email did not name the employees.

“I am obligated by the State of Florida to not only maintain ethical conduct but to uphold it on my campus,” she wrote.

Souder asked that the school district reopen the investigation and assign it to a different investigator.

During the investigation of the November incident, the treasurer said that Dellegrotti-Ocampo appeared to criticize Souder during the run-in, saying “the problem is in that office” and pointing to Souder’s door, records show.

Souder, 39, submitted her resignation on Monday. A school district spokeswoman said her resignation was due to “personal and professional reasons.”

Souder did not return a call seeking comment.

The West Palm Beach-area school is located south of Southern Boulevard and west of Florida’s Turnpike.

Everglades Elementary principal resigns abruptly

Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps

The principal of Everglades Elementary resigned abruptly this week, leaving school district administrators scrambling to name a new leader to run the West Palm Beach-area school.

Amie Souder
Amie Souder

Amie Souder, 39, who took over as principal this school year, submitted her resignation on Monday, citing “personal and professional reasons,” a school district spokeswoman said.

School district administrators alerted parents Tuesday evening. By Wednesday, they had tapped school district administrator Joe DePasquale to run the school until a new principal is named.

Wednesday morning, Extra Credit published a report about an incident at the school in November involving the school’s previous principal, Tara Dellegrotti-Ocampo, who snuck into the school’s back office and scolded the school’s treasurer.

Souder was interviewed by school district administrators about the incident but did not appear to be directly involved.

It was not clear whether Souder’s resignation was related to the incident. She did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Souder, a school district employee since 2002, had been an assistant principal at Bak Middle School of the Arts before taking the helm Everglades Elementary.

The school is located south of Southern Boulevard and west of Florida’s Turnpike.