Leadership Engage Learns the Importance of Education

Leadership Palm Beach County
May 23, 2016

The 2016 Engage Class completed its Education Day on May 11th. There were plenty of issues to discuss, debate and tackle.  

Class member Megan Richards highlights the impact tourism has on our community and the importance of preparing our students for the workforce.

What was the most important issue/debate discussed during Education Day?  What is the best way to solve or address the issue?

The Leadership Engage class started our day at School District’s Fulton Holland Educational Services Center, with presentations from school board member, Erica Whitfield, and Superintendent, Dr. Robert Avossa.  With 186 schools, 183,000 students, and almost 22,000 employees, the Palm Beach County School District is vast and incredibly diverse. Community research recognized the need for improvement in 4 themes/areas in order to achieve the district’s long-term outcomes.  The themes include effective and relevant instruction to meet the needs of all students, positive and supportive school climate, talent development, and a high performance culture. The School District’s 2016-2021 Strategic Plan provides all of the details, with the rationale, long-term outcomes, strategic themes, and next steps.

The four long-term outcomes are:

  • to increase reading on grade level by 3rd grade (currently about 50% of third graders read on grade level, with significant achievement gaps among different demographics)
  • Ensure high school readiness (academically, socially, and emotionally)
  • Increase the high school graduation rate (currently 75% when charter schools are included)
  • Foster post-graduate success (with multiple career pathways)

Dr. Avossa and the school board have laid out a five year plan to address these issues.  In order for the plan to be successful, parents, community members, and business partners need to supportive and involved.   


What was the 2nd most important issue/debate discussed during the Session Day?  What is the best way to solve or address the issue?

Another common theme throughout the day was preparing students to be successful in a workforce that is evolving rapidly.  Many of the children in school today will enter into jobs that don’t currently even exist yet.  STEM job creation over the next 10 years will outpace non-STEM jobs significantly, growing 17 percent, as compared to less than 10 percent for non-stem positions.

We visited Galaxy Elementary, Poinciana Elementary, and teleconferenced into Grassy Waters Elementary, all schools providing students with strong STEM curriculum.  We also got a tour of South Tech Charter School and learned how their career academies are graduating high school seniors with industry certifications, college-ready and/or prepared to join the workforce.  The schools we visited are excellent models of sites preparing children for a highly technological future.  However, the schools we saw are the exception, rather than the norm.  The issue of prepared graduates came up again when we heard from Dr. Wihbey from Palm Beach State College.  Many students graduate from high school but still need to take remedial, non-credit courses upon admission into PBSC. While community colleges provide excellent access to higher education, there is an issue with completion rate. 

Dr. Wihbey suggested that the education system in our county needs “disruptive innovation.”  Our education system currently functions as though all students learn at the same pace and in the same way, which we know is not true.  There are certainly issues that need to be addressed, but the general feel in the community seems hopeful that with the school district under new leadership (and perhaps the penny increase in sales tax), positive change is coming.


What can the broader leadership community do to solve/address these issues?  Discuss calls for action.

Many presenters identified the need to community leaders to advocate for education and communicate with our legislators.  We also learned more about the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County. The Education Foundation serves as a connection for private sector investment and community involvement in our public schools. With the support from community contributions, the Education Foundation can invest in innovative programs to improve academic achievement, otherwise not funded through tax dollars.


We invest in programs not funded through tax dollars, including student scholarships, mentoring and other dropout prevention strategies, teacher quality and recognition programs, classroom grants, literacy improvement strategies, technical/career education initiatives, and targeted support for low-performing students and schools.