Palm Beach County School Board discusses future following superintendent's resignation

Several board members support nationwide search, say it must be 'thorough' and 'well-reasoned'
The Palm Beach County School Board meets on July 14, 2021.jpg
Posted at 1:15 PM, Jul 14, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday took the first steps in choosing a new superintendent to lead the tenth-largest school district in America.

Dr. Donald Fennoy announced he's resigning effective Oct. 11 after three years on the job to spend more time with his family.

Just 24 hours after Fennoy made the difficult decision public, school board members held a special meeting on Wednesday, thanking the longtime educator for his service to the School District of Palm Beach County and praising him for prioritizing his loved ones.

"I think we have to look at ourselves as people first," said School Board Member Marcia Andrews. "And our families do come first in all of our lives."

Fennoy's departure leaves a major seat to fill in a school district of 180,000 students, 23,000 staff members, and a nearly $4 billion budget.

Several school board members -- including Chairman Frank Barbieri, Erica Whitfield, and Andrews -- expressed their desires to conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent, while also admitting there are qualified internal candidates as well.

"I think everyone needs to recognize the huge challenges faced by the superintendent of a very large school district," Barbieri said. "The job is complex and difficult during normal times. And I think we can all agree that the past 18 months have been anything but normal."

Barbieri said the hiring process will take time and must include input from school district staff members, teachers, parents, various stakeholders, and the business community.

"We need to take the time to have thoughtful, well-reasoned discussions, rather than shooting from the hip and making hasty decisions," Barbieri said.

The school board on Wednesday agreed the next step should be to hold a workshop -- likely next week -- to review the options for selecting a new superintendent, including potentially finding an interim to hold the school district over.

Board members stressed it will be next to impossible to hire someone by the start of the 2021/22 academic year, which is slated to begin on Aug. 10.

"In order for us to hear from [the public], we won't be able to get it done in that kind of a time frame," Whitfield said. "That's really fast for us. This is a huge position."

"The selection process has to be thorough. We have to take time. There's no way we would even have anybody ready for the opening of school," Andrews said. "It's just not going to happen overnight. And we want to make quality decisions."

Barbieri emphasized to the public that Fennoy's departure won't impact the level of education and standards of excellence within the School District of Palm Beach County.

"There are numerous layer of administration and leadership that oversee education, right now to the dedicated teacher in the classroom," Barbieri said. "The public should not anticipate, nor this board foresee, any extraordinary or unanticipated challenges when our kids go back to school."

RELATED: Palm Beach County schools Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy explains 'heavy' decision to resign

Earlier on Wednesday, Barbieri told WPTV he'd like to see a nationwide search for a new superintendent to find someone who is experienced and skilled in both the education and business sectors, as well as someone who can handle the economic and social diversity of Palm Beach County.

"It takes somebody that has experience handling a large organization, hopefully a large school system, to come here to take over for us," Barbieri said. "And that might be a national search to get that candidate."

RELATED: Timeline of recent Palm Beach County superintendents

However, Fennoy argued it will be difficult to conduct a national search because many major cities throughout the U.S. are also looking for superintendents.

"You have two major districts in Florida that are vacant right now," Fennoy said.

The superintendent added that an internal candidate could make for an easier transition for the School District of Palm Beach County.

"I think that's very important so that all the employees can now center their energy with the leadership of whoever that person is," Fennoy said.

Fennoy signed a five-year contract in 2018 and made history by becoming the first African American superintendent in Palm Beach County history.