South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | July 13, 2021
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy announced Tuesday that he plans to resign, ending a three-year tenure that started successfully but turned tumultuous during the pandemic.
His contract requires three months’ notice, so he said his last day will be Oct. 11.
The decision comes after a difficult year in the school district, marked by multiple controversies, including when to reopen schools during the pandemic, whether the district should pledge to combat “white advantage” and whether to rehire a principal who made comments questioning whether the Holocaust was real.
Fennoy, 44, also received a mediocre evaluation from the School Board last fall, with some board members wanting to put him on a performance review.
“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,” Fennoy said in his resignation letter to School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri. “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.”
Fennoy couldn’t be reached for comment, despite an attempt by phone. Barbieri said Fennoy called him Tuesday morning to share his decision.
“It was totally unexpected,” Barbieri said. “He obviously recognized the job is a tremendous burden for someone, especially in today’s climate. He expressed he wants to spend more time with his family. His mom and dad are getting up there, and family comes first.”
Barbieri said the School Board will discuss at a meeting Wednesday the process for replacing Fennoy.
Fennoy started off with strong support on the School Board, receiving a rating of “highly effective” during his first yearly evaluation in 2019. But in October 2020, he received a 2.51 out of 4, which was “effective,” but just barely. A score below 2.5 would have been “needs improvement.”
Board members complained he was too late last summer to plan for a return to school after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Palm Beach Classroom Teachers Association recommended last September he be fired, saying teachers were misled about whether they could teach remotely due to concerns over COVID-19.
“The lack of planning has left educators floundering amid a barrage of inconsistent messages,” board member Marcia Andrews wrote in his evaluation last year. “As a result, credibility, respect and confidence has been lost. … Some educators have left the profession.”
Board members also said his staff botched an investigation that created a national embarrassment for the district.
Fennoy initially decided not to discipline William Latson, who was principal at Spanish River High in Boca Raton after he refused to acknowledge to a parent in 2018 that the Holocaust was real. After the case got national attention a year later, the School Board, at Fennoy’s recommendation, fired Latson. But then they agreed to rehire him in October after a judge ruled he was wrongly terminated and litigation could be costly. The board flip-flopped again a few weeks later due to outrage from around the country.
Fennoy, the county’s first Black superintendent, lost support from the two Black members of the School Board, with Debra Robinson gave him a rating of “needs improvement” last year while Andrews rated him as unsatisfactory.
Board member Erica Whitfield remained supportive of him and said she’s “very sad” to see him go. She said he led the school district well during an unprecedented year.
“It’s just been awful. Everything has been difficult,” she said. “Every challenge he’s risen to. Now this is one more thing we’re going to have to deal with.”
Fennoy was hired in May 2018 to replace Superintendent Robert Avossa, who left after three years. Avossa had hired Fennoy in 2016 as the district’s chief operating officer.
Before that, Fennoy was a senior area superintendent in Fulton County, Georgia, schools, also working under Avossa. He also served as a high school principal in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a teacher and assistant principal in Orlando.
This leaves two of the three South Florida counties with a superintendent vacancy. Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie agreed to step down after his indictment in April on a perjury charge. His last day will be Aug. 10. An interim superintendent is expected to be named for that job within the next two weeks..