Fulton County Schools, Ga.
My experience as a young immigrant in America is the reason that I believe so strongly in public schools. We must never overlook some students in the quest to provide an excellent education to others because equal opportunity is not only the heart of American education – it’s the heart of democracy.
Robert Avossa has something in common with many of today’s struggling students: as a child, English was his second language.
His immigrant parents came to the U.S. from Italy, drawn by America’s economic opportunities and public education system. And for the first four years of his schooling, Avossa struggled mightily to develop his English skills. Now, as superintendent of Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, he refuses to forget what he and his parents faced, and how many Fulton students and their families share similar challenges.
After spending five years in a cabinet-level position in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools — a progressive urban school district that has made great improvements for its low-income students and students of color — Avossa accepted the top post at Fulton in 2011. The school system includes more than 100 schools that serve some 93,000 students, two of whom are his own children.
“When I watch my own children board the school bus, I know what it feels like, from a parent’s perspective, to want an active voice,” Avossa said.
He quickly began seeking the input of his fellow parents, putting more than 50,000 miles on his car in 16 months as he traveled from community meeting to community meeting. He discovered a common theme in these conversations: Fulton County parents were frustrated with what they saw as a top-down, bureaucratic approach of the system.
Within months, Avossa created a new, decentralized way of running schools. He established four “Learning Communities” that put decision-making closer to classrooms and to parents. And he set what some might consider a lofty goal for student outcomes: by 2017, the district will have an on-time high school graduation rate of 90 percent, and 85 percent of students will be qualified to enter Georgia’s university system.
As the district made impressive gains in SAT scores — moving from 25th in the state to 2nd in just two years — and as Avossa worked to enroll more African-American students into rigorous Advanced Placement classes, local citizens demonstrated their support by approving a $740 million tax enabling Fulton County Schools to renovate school buildings and invest in new technologies.
“Any parent will tell you that their dream for their child is not just to do well in K-12, but to go on to do great things in life,” said Avossa. “Unfortunately, our state standards have not been high enough to get them there. That is why, here in Fulton County, we are raising the bar for all of our students. I want every child to realize the same opportunities my parents strived to give me.”
Began his career as a public school teacher and principal
Chief Academic Officer & Area Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Superintendent, Fulton County Schools
Fulton County Schools
Serves nearly 100,000 students in 100 schools; the second-largest school system in Georgia
Employs more than 17,000 teachers, support staff and administrators
46 percent of enrolled students qualify for the national school lunch program