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Palm Beach County schools Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy resigning

Fennoy resigning effective Oct. 11 to spend more time with family, school district says
Palm Beach County Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy talks to WPTV on March 11, 2021.jpg
Posted at 9:40 AM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 18:12:55-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy says he will resign from the School District of Palm Beach County later this year.

In a letter to parents and staff members on Tuesday, Fennoy said he will step down effective Oct. 11, roughly two months after the 2021/22 academic year begins on Aug. 10.

"The decision to leave this honorable position was made after careful thought, discussion with my family, and self-reflection," Fennoy wrote. "I am incredibly proud of the work that we have accomplished as a team over the last five years in our mutual and ongoing commitment to ensuring academic excellence for our students. The past 15-months, in particular, have presented challenges, but because of our resilient and dedicated staff, we have turned challenges into opportunities for growth."

A spokeswoman for the School District of Palm Beach County said Fennoy is resigning to spend more time with his family, not to take another job.

There's a clause in Fennoy's contract which allows him to give 90 days notice if he wants to leave the school district.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education

Fennoy, who became superintendent in March of 2018, has helped guide the School District of Palm Beach County through major educational changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The superintendent recently presented plans for the full return to in-person instruction for the 2021/22 academic year, including optional face masks for all students and staff members inside school buildings and on school district transportation.

However, some Palm Beach County School Board members took issue with Fennoy's plans, saying they were made without consulting a wide range of medical professionals.

School Board Member Barbara McQuinn told WPTV via text message on Tuesday she's "very sad about his resignation, not surprised, just sad."

Board Member Erica Whitfield echoed those comments, saying she too is disappointed about Fennoy's departure.

"The last couple months, I think every time I came into the office, I kept asking if he was still working here," Whitfield said. "It can get out of control very quickly. 200,000 kids. 20,000-plus workers. So things can go haywire. So having him so strong and decisive was a good thing for our system."

School Board Vice Chair Karen Brill hinted the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on Fennoy, who drew the anger of parents who were against his mask mandate in schools.

"I know this has been a time unlike any other and emotions run high. They’re still running high," Brill said. "I think when people look back on his leadership, he got us through a very difficult time and didn’t abandon ship in the middle of it and stayed the course."

The focus now in Fennoy's final three months is finding a replacement.

"I think we might need an interim for a little while just because there are so many large school districts throughout the country that are searching for superintendent right now," Whitfield said. "We want to get somebody who can handle the challenges here."

Those challenges include student safety, a full return to in-person learning, and curriculums focused on racial equality. Board members admit it's a tall task ahead.

"I will tell to the type of person I look for, as a board we have always looked to the public," Brill said. "So we’ll be looking for public input, community leadership input, our employees' input. From them, it’s going to be a team decision."

"Every member of Team Palm Beach contributes to the overall success of our students. I am humbled by your commitment to the children who we serve," Fennoy wrote in his letter. "While I will be leaving the District, the passion I have always felt for empowering our students is unwavering. I look forward to continuing to serve our amazing community in other ways while also spending more quality time with my family."

Fennoy was hired in 2018 during a turbulent and uncertain time for local schools, shortly after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

During Fennoy's tenure, he oversaw major mental health and school security changes within the School District of Palm Beach County, including having a school district police officer at all 179 schools in the district.

Fennoy also helped spearhead a 2018 election referendum in which residents approved a property tax increase that allowed teachers to get pay raises, along with money for school improvements.

However, Fennoy's time as superintendent has not come without controversy.

Back in September, shortly before students were able to return to in-person instruction, the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association called for Fennoy's removal, saying union members "have lost all faith and now have zero confidence that a righting of this rudderless ship is possible without immediate change."

CTA President Justin Katz went on to berate Fennoy for a "pattern of failed leadership and lies and deceptions."

Fennoy later acknowledged his communication could've been better and "more forceful" regarding the logistics of reopening brick-and-mortar schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, school board members voiced their support for Fennoy, saying it was not the time evaluate his performance given the "heat of the moment." They did agree, however, they wanted to see the superintendent be more proactive in handling coronavirus-related issues before they escalate.

Weeks later, the Palm Beach County School Board gave Fennoy an "effective" rating, which is the second-highest rating on a four-point scale. The year before, Fennoy had earned a "highly effective" rating.

The Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association on Tuesday declined to comment on Fennoy's resignation.

While Fennoy's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic certainly created some contention, the superintendent did oversee some critical improvements to help students adapt and adjust to the virtual style of learning.

Those improvements included spending more than $20 million at the start of the 2020/21 academic year to make sure every child had a laptop who needed one, along with the creation of the WiFi Mesh Network to deliver free high-speed, high-quality Internet to roughly 25,000 students in need.

Before becoming superintendent of the tenth-largest school district in the country, Fennoy was the School District of Palm Beach County's chief operating officer for two years.

Fennoy made history in 2018 by becoming the first African American superintendent in Palm Beach County history.

According to school district figures, the graduation rate increased from 91.7% in 2018 to 94.4% in 2020 at district-operated schools under Fennoy's leadership.

RELATED: Timeline of recent Palm Beach County superintendents

To put Fennoy's tenure as superintendent into perspective, his predecessor, Dr. Robert Avossa, served as Palm Beach County superintendent from June 2015 to June 2018. Before that, Wayne Gent officially had the job from February 2012 to January 2015. Art Johnson was superintendent from March 2001 to February 2011.

In Miami-Dade County, Alberto Carvalho has been the superintendent of the public school district since September 2008.

Robert Runcie has served as superintendent of Broward County Public Schools since 2011. However, he's resigning after he was indicted by a grand jury in April for perjury.

The Palm Beach County School Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting on Wednesday afternoon where Board Chairman Frank Barbieri plans to discuss Fennoy's resignation and possible next steps.

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