Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and some of his top aides braved highway traffic to travel to Cutler Bay on July 13, putting faces on the effort to curb school violence at Cutler Bay Academy of Advanced Studies.
Carvalho and company spoke in front of the Cutler Bay council at a special Town Hall workshop at the request of Mayor Peggy Bell.
“I asked Superintendent Carvalho to speak before the town council because I believe him to be a man of his word,” Bell said. “I wanted the council members and residents to hear he is personally committed to improving our middle school.”
Carvalho, the school system’s deputy superintendent, an assistant superintendent and facilities director attended the meeting. The town’s school board representative, Dr. Lawrence Feldman, and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava also attended.
“I accepted the invitation of the mayor to come here because I will never turn my back on a community or a single individual that says ‘I would like to talk to you, about how we together can improve the level of decency, behavior, particularly of young people,’” Carvalho said at the workshop.
A spotlight has glared on the school after the Florida Department of Education reported a 41 percent jump in reports on fighting between the 2012 and 2013 school years. The department reported a state-high 188 fighting reports at the school.
While Miami-Dade County Public Schools did a “forensic analysis” of the data and claims that there was a coding issue, Carvalho said that was no excuse.
“That report certainly cast a light and expressed a condition at the school that would have shocked anyone,” Carvalho said at the workshop. “Remember what I said, one fight in the school is one too many. So for me, what is the breaking point at which you should be shocked? Is it five fights? Ten fights? Fifty fights? One hundred and fifty fights? No matter what the number is, they are unacceptable at the first fight. With that said, statistics are important. How you interpret them ... how you count the beans is important.”
The school hired principal Paul Pfeiffer in December 2013. It has an enrollment of about 1,180 students.
On May 7, Bell wrote an open letter stating that zero tolerance for fighting should result in expulsion, rather than “a 10-day holiday.”
The school received a D grade from the Florida Department of Education in 2013 and 2014.
“I was very pleased with the action plan the superintendent made for Cutler Bay Middle,” Bell said. “He outlined additional safety measures, student learning assistance, parent classes and assistance and even added a music program, which the school lost many years ago. Additional security and a new music program will go a long way toward providing the students with an atmosphere more conducive to learning.”
Carvalho and his staff outlined a plan of action to remedy the ailment. His plan included dipping into a discretionary account to make a “specific investment” in the school as well as psychological programs, security investments, additional personnel, and social counseling.
“This is a positive move for the town and the school,” Bell said. “We have a good partnership with Miami-Dade Schools, we will continue to look for solutions together. Our town school’s success is the most important issue we face, both for our children’s future and that of our town. Good schools attract home buyers, new businesses and increase property values. The continued success of Cutler Bay is greatly dependent on our schools’ success.”
Carvalho said that the “silver lining” of the fighting reports is that the school system found out its data systems do not “align perfectly” with the state, due to different types of violations and more qualifications and classifications for student misbehavior.
“The commitment that we’ve made, even prior to this discussion and immediately after this issue was brought to light, has been a significant investment that I have more than doubled,” Carvalho said at the workshop. “I have a discretionary account that I have decided to access to make a specific investment in this school ... not to create a condition of inequity with other schools, but because I believe that this school and this town were put under a gray cloud without deserving to be so. There has to be an investment to erase that perspective.”