Built in the days when kids in rural northwest Miami-Dade rode horses to campus (or so goes the local lore), Hialeah Senior High is one of the oldest schools in the county.
With a student population reflective of the virtues and challenges of our port-of-entry geography, the historic school needs major modernization.
It has an impressive record of sending top graduates to Ivy League and other highly rated universities, but it also houses a population that needs a drastically different level of instruction. Of the 3,000 students enrolled, 700 need intensive English-language instruction to graduate, and 350 are low-functioning special education students, some non-verbal.
At both ends of the spectrum, there’s a critical need to upgrade most of the school’s 110 classrooms, which are still operating with outdated projectors and few computers, and have no infrastructure to handle new technology.
That’s why Hialeah High is one of the 280 Miami-Dade public schools slated for renovation if voters in November approve a $1.2 billion bond issue that, with a small investment by homeowners, promises to yield big results.
“There’s no doubt that the number one factor [for learning] is the quality of the classroom teacher,” Hialeah High Principal Verena Cabrera tells me, “but these kids have grown up in the era of technology. As a society, we need to take advantage of technology to reach them and to teach them because they’re attracted to it. With technology, we better command their attention.”
But only a few classrooms at Hialeah High, opened in 1954 and expanded in the early 2000s, have interactive boards and computers that have been proven to enhance student engagement and learning.
And it’s hardly alone. One-third of Miami-Dade’s schools are older than 50 years. Half are more than 40 years old and in critical need of renovation and upgrade.
Some schools have serious problems that pose health hazards to students — from leaking roofs and electrical systems that need updating to moldy air-conditioning and smelly, exposed piping in bathrooms.
Some are so outdated they need to be torn down and rebuilt, says Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who convinced the School Board to put the bond issue before voters.
Historic low interest rates and more affordable construction costs are top reasons why it makes sense to support the bond issue.
A typical homesteaded owner with a $158,000 house would pay an additional $10 a year in taxes — quite a bargain.
In a generous and healthy world, the case for upgrading our aging public schools would be made from an altruistic perspective. It’s the right move.
But given the politically charged times when doubt, mistrust and fear reign, it better serves us to remember that whether one has school-age children or not, everyone benefits from the improvements.
Good schools have considerable impact on home values and can be a stabilizing force in a neighborhood. Any real estate agent will tell you that when housing markets decline, neighborhoods with superior schools tend to better hold their property values.
Seen from that perspective, that $10 seems the highest-yielding of investments.