The new year is a time to reflect on all that has been accomplished and to look ahead at possibilities yet to be realized. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is made up of an extraordinary cadre of education professionals and guided by a School Board committed to delivering educational excellence for all students. Their efforts have resulted in a collection of accomplishments that place our district squarely at the top of America’s public schools.
During the last year, our educators were recognized with a number of awards, including Florida’s Teacher of the Year, the Magnet Schools of America (MSA) National Teacher-of-the-Year, Florida’s Principal and Assistant Principal of the Year and, in fact, we even had two teachers considered for Grammy awards.
Our schools also were identified as some of the best in the nation. We had schools recognized as Imagine “Super-Schools,” 22 career academy programs at 15 senior high schools were designated national-model programs by the National Academy Foundation, 35 schools were recognized as best in class by MSA, as well as many other accolades. And when high school performance grades were released, 86 percent of the districts’ senior high schools received either an A or B, and for the third consecutive year, there were no F-rated high schools.
As a system we again led the state in both graduation rates and student performance gains on the FCAT. Nationally, students outperformed their peers in large cities including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, according to exam data on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and Advanced Placement exam participation and performance. Miami-Dade was even named a 2013 Best Community for Music Education in recognition of our board’s commitment to keeping arts education in our schools.
While we are incredibly proud of the work of our teachers and all employees across the district who have helped develop and implement innovative programs and strategies to give each child every opportunity to succeed, we will not rest; we will continue to strive for improvement in all that we do.
In terms of the business operations of our district, we remain committed to transparency, efficiency and innovation; principles that helped us navigate some of the most difficult financial periods in our nation’s recent history. But as in the past, there will continue to be challenges — challenges not of our making, such as the revenue shortfalls affecting our district budget due to county property tax collections not reaching a level of at least 96 percent, the percentage the state requires districts use in budget formulation.
Changes in state and federal legislation will also affect collective-bargaining efforts, but we are committed to providing respectful salaries and confident in our ability to deliver the rare benefit of a health-insurance option at no cost to the employee, including dependent care subsidies. But this goal can only be achieved through consensus and partnership with our employee groups.
We continue moving forward with the implementation of the $1.2 billion bond program approved by the voters in 2012. In just the first year we have made significant progress launching 69 projects and reducing the program timeline by up to two years in some cases. We expect all schools to be wireless by this spring, ahead of schedule.
Further, we are making good on our promise to reinvest these dollars in our own community. The School Board has adopted a small/micro business policy, as well as a local vendor preference policy to ensure that local businesses have every opportunity to participate in the bond program.
Finally, Florida’s ever-changing education accountability system remains a point of concern and uncertainty, not just for Miami-Dade, but for the state as a whole. The state-mandated implementation of Common Core State Standards will continue, as will the phasing out of the FCAT. Unfortunately, as of this writing our state has not identified a replacement test, nor has it agreed to modify the timeline for transition.
Accountability used beyond the improvement of instruction is madness. Students aren’t widgets, and educating them is not a numbers game. The Florida Association of School Superintendents has sounded this alarm and called for the decommissioning of the current school-grading formula and the provision of a minimum of a two-year transition period during which we can work together to usher in a new age of reasonable and responsible accountability. It is our sincere hope that the State Board of Education will once again take the lead by putting the interests of students and teachers ahead of politics and arbitrary timelines.
In spite of these challenges M-DCPS will forge ahead, with the support of parents, our community and municipal and business partners. Together, we will deliver on the promise of a world-class education, paving the way for Miami’s growth into a world-class city. There are many opportunities for success on the horizon and with the leadership of our board and dedication of our administrators, teachers and other committed education professionals, 2014 will see Miami-Dade County Public Schools reach new heights of excellence.