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Broward schools appoint new superintendent as Peter Licata announces surprise retirement

Board member Brenda Fam hugs Broward Schools Superintendent Peter Licata after he announced his resignation due to medical issues at a meeting on Tuesday, April 16, 2024.
Joe Cavaretta
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Board member Brenda Fam hugs Broward Schools Superintendent Peter Licata after he announced his resignation due to medical issues at a meeting on Tuesday, April 16, 2024.

Story updated at 11:20 a.m.

After only 10 months in the position, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Peter Licata announced his surprise retirement Tuesday morning, citing health reasons.

"After conferring recently with my doctors, my wife and my four adult children, it is best that I retire from this incredible role," he told the school board.

Just over an hour later, school board members voted in his replacement — Howard Hepburn, who had been the Deputy Superintendent, Teaching and Learning under Licata.

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The news came at the start of a meeting with an agenda packed with some of the topics that have made this period one of the most challenging the district has faced in recent years.

Broward County Public Schools is currently undertaking a major effort to consolidate the district’s resources following two decades of declining enrollment, which could result in the closure of an unknown number of schools.

Also up for discussion were a reversal of $36.6m in raises approved for teachers earlier this year — a proposal that was later withdrawn by the board member behind it — and a lawsuit filed by charter schools asking for a payout in the tens of millions.

“I'm heartbroken to hear that you're retiring. Your dedication, leadership and positive impact on our school district has truly been admirable," Board Chair Lori Alhadeff told Licata.

"I've always respected and appreciate the way you've prioritized the well-being and success of all of our students. You will be greatly missed and your legacy and undoubtedly continue to inspire us all.”

In announcing his departure, Licata recommended selecting Hepburn as his replacement, adding that he could stay on until the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition.

Alhadeff moved to appoint him and after some debate, the board approved the selection by 8-1, with DeSantis appointee Daniel Foganholi the only dissenting vote.

“I am fully committed to do what I need to do to move this district forward,” Hepburn told board members.

After the vote, Licata received a standing ovation from the packed chambers and hugged Alhadeff before stepping down off the dais to be replaced by Hepburn.

Licata, who is 59, said that he spoke with his doctor last week and was faced with decisions. He would not discuss what specific health issues he was facing, only that he decided to retire and spend time with his children and grandchildren.

“Having grandkids and not seeing them much is not what it's about,” Licata said during a brief press conference after the vote.

Hepburn previously worked with Licata in Palm Beach County School District, where he served as the Instructional Superintendent.

“I'm so elated to continue the focus, to continue the priority, to move our school district to an A [rating]," he said at the press conference following his appointment. "I know it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of effort and it's going to take a lot of collaboration on the part of the public to build that trust back in us."

A native of South Florida from Belle Glade in western Palm Beach County, Hepburn also spoke of the "challenges and complexities" of growing up in a community with a history of under-investment.

"It took a village to really help kids like myself in that community grow up and prosper to change our trajectories and that's what I'm here for," he said.

A hiring to stabilize and transform

Peter Licata was selected as the leader of the Broward County schools in June 2023. Board members hired him as the nation’s sixth largest district looked to stabilize leadership, transform internal culture and lift the district to an A letter grade.

“This is a dream job. I'm coming home,” Licata, a Broward native, said after being hired. “We get one shot at this. And I'm not spending it on the sideline.”

Licata served as a regional superintendent in the School District of Palm Beach County before coming to Broward.

READ MORE: Broward school board selects Peter Licata as new superintendent

He grew up in Pompano Beach and worked in neighboring Palm Beach County for almost three decades. Licata said he didn’t initially plan to go into education and instead went to work at age 17 to support his family after both his parents became ill.

Licata started his career as a classroom teacher and a coach before becoming an assistant principal and principal, ultimately moving into district administration. In that role, Licata oversaw the 60 schools in SDPBC’s South Region, which borders Broward County. He holds a PhD in Global Leadership from Lynn University.

This is a developing story. Please return for updates.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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