Palm Beach County School Board chairman wants national search for new superintendent

Frank Barbieri hopes to have new superintendent in place by December
Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri speaks to WPTV on July 14, 2021.jpg
Posted at 12:28 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 16:06:28-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The head of the Palm Beach County School Board said Wednesday he wants to see a nationwide search to choose the next superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County.

Dr. Donald Fennoy is resigning effective Oct. 11 after three years on the job, leaving a major vacancy in the tenth-largest school district in the country.

"Being the superintendent of a very large district like ours is a very taxing job, I think anyone will agree, in normal times," said School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri. "Of course, the last 15 months have been anything but normal. [Fennoy] has really had a lot of obstacles thrown in his way."


Interview with School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri

Fennoy told WPTV on Wednesday he made the difficult decision to resign during a recent staycation in Palm Beach County with his wife and two children.

"I'm a father first," Fennoy said. "I said, if I'm going to do it, I need to do it now to give the board an opportunity to select an interim."

Calling Fennoy's resignation "very unexpected," Barbieri said he would like to see the Palm Beach County School Board conduct a national search to find a new superintendent, someone who has experience in both education and business.

With its roughly 180,000 students, 23,000 staff members, and nearly $4 billion budget, Barbieri said the superintendent job calls for someone who can handle the economic and social diversity of Palm Beach County.

"I want to see us bring in somebody who as proven expertise in handling a large organization," Barbieri said. "It takes somebody that has experience handling a large organization, hopefully a large school system, to come here to take over for us."

Fennoy on Wednesday argued it will be difficult to conduct a national search because many major cities throughout the U.S. are also looking for superintendents to lead them through this next stage of education.

"If it's internal, that means it's gonna be someone on my team, which is great," Fennoy said. "We have a great relationship with my whole team and I can help them transition."


Palm Beach County superintendent interview


Barbieri said it will be "impossible" to find a new superintendent by the start of the 2021/22 academic year, which is slated to begin on Aug. 10, but he's hopeful to have someone in place by the end of the first semester, which wraps up on Dec. 22.

"I want to have the right person in the position. And I'm sure my colleagues on the board share that goal," Barbieri said. "This board has always done a great job of finding qualified candidates, and I think we'll do the same thing this time."

All members of the Palm Beach County School Board, with the exception of newcomer Alexandria Ayala, have been through the process of selecting new superintendents multiple times in the past.

The school board will meet on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the first steps in starting a search. Barbieri said he wants board members to agree to take some time and look at all the options available.

"We shouldn't be making decisions the day after the superintendent makes his resignation known to us," Barbieri said. "It's a difficult task to go through, bringing in a new superintendent. Going through the vetting process and making sure the public is comfortable with the person we've chosen."

Fennoy, who had signed a five-year contract in 2018, said the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated his departure "quite a bit."

"Under the circumstances that he faced, all the challenges and obstacles in his way, he did as good a job as anybody could've done in this situation," Barbieri said. "It's hard to say we're looking for different qualities in the next leader because the next leader, hopefully, won't have to go through a pandemic."

RELATED: Timeline of recent Palm Beach County superintendents

As the School District of Palm Beach County prepares for a full return to in-person instruction on Aug. 10 with face masks optional for all students and staff members, Barbieri said he doesn't see the need to move Fennoy to a different position within the district during the transition period.

"Everything's in place. He's put it in place to reopen the school system. And I think he should follow through with that, and I want him to follow through with that," Barbieri said. "Although he have this difficult task ahead of us to find a new superintendent, our priority must be that we provide that education to the children."