“One of my favorite Al Pacino lines from ‘Godfather III’ (is), ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!’” Dr. Michael Armbruster wrote last week on his Facebook page. “Kind of felt like that this week, except I walked through the open door willingly.”
Armbruster, who retired in 2020 after a 33-year career with Orange County Public Schools, is returning to OCPS, this time as the deputy superintendent. He will report directly to Dr. Maria Vazquez, the recently appointed superintendent for OCPS.
“I’m looking forward to working with our new superintendent, the School Board and so many others to positively impact more than 200,000 students, 14,000 teachers and 11,000 support staff members,” Armbruster said.
He and Vazquez have worked together for two decades. They served as principals together, and she was his superior when he was associate superintendent.
A year ago, after he retired, he was working with the Orange County Association of School Administrators, which is made up of principals and assistant principals, and served as the group’s spokesperson in a meeting with Vazquez.
During a meeting between the two, the conversation shifted to the position of deputy superintendent. Between her goals and vision and his reputation for building culture, it was a positive match, he said.
“With her leadership I think we can make a profound difference,” Armbruster said. “I really do. … She tells us where we’re going, and then I drive the bus with everybody on it to get there. I supervise the academic side – OCPS has chiefs, finance, operations, IT. I work hand-in-glove with them, but my role is more focused on the school experience side of it.”
Collaboration is important, too, as is interacting with people and being able to affect honest change, he said.
“At West Orange, at the time I took over, there was a lot of — everybody had their own little world, this group wanted that concession stand … the football team didn’t like the soccer team using their field,” Armbruster said. “I tried to make them understand, ‘It doesn’t matter what your position, whether you’re a student, teacher, principal — it takes all of us together.’ It was about respecting each other, and titles didn’t matter. We needed people in every position to make the school what all we wanted to make it be.
“Everybody brings something to the table, and if you listen, it can improve the product,” he said. “There’s so much power in collaboration. That’s what I’m known for.”
Armbruster said one of his goals as deputy superintendent is to get teachers to want to stay in education.
“I don’t need the job, I don’t need the money … but it’s a chance to make a difference,” he said. “Education’s gotten a bad rap in the last few decades. It’s been picked at and torn apart, and we’ve just got to create an environment where teachers want to stay there through thick and thin.
“We can’t fix everything, we can’t fix testing, but we can fix the atmosphere in which they work in,” he said.
When Armbruster retired in 2020, he was serving as associate superintendent for career and technical education. Prior to that, he was a high school principal at three schools, including West Orange and Ocoee in West Orange County.
“Ready to start this next chapter with excitement and a belief that we can and will take OCPS to the next level working with those who serve and have made education their profession,” he wrote on Facebook. “Being an educator — it’s a beautiful thing!”