It’s finally here: the day children dread and eagerly anticipate in equal measure. The end of summer vacation and the first day of school has arrived in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Over 600,000 public schools students are streaming into schools across South Florida for the start of the academic year. New teachers, new classmates and — at Miami Norland Senior High — a new $42 million building.
Gone are the crumbling walls, water-stained ceilings and dark hallways of the old Norland. In its place, the Miami Gardens high school has become a gleaming campus complete with a new auditorium, classrooms equipped with state-of-the art technology, and facilities for music, dance and arts programs.
Or, as one student told Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho during freshman orientation on Saturday, “It’s cute.”
Norland is the last of Miami-Dade’s 1950s-era high schools to be replaced in the urban core. It is also the school district’s largest construction project using money from a $1.2 billion school improvement bond that was passed in 2012. The district has completed 260 construction projects so far and spent nearly $400 million.
“We can now say that every single inner-city high school in Miami-Dade is up to par,” Carvalho said at Norland on Saturday. “This stands as the beacon of hope and opportunity for this community.”
The new facilities were a welcome sight for students and for parents, some of whom remember the old Norland from their own high school days.
“It’s excellent, but it’s a long time coming,” said Nathan Price, a Miami Gardens resident who graduated from Norland in 1985. Price’s son, Nathan C. Price, is an incoming freshman at Norland, and will go to school in a very different building from the one in which his father studied. “It’s a great environment to learn in,” the elder Price said of the new campus.
Susan Angus, whose daughter Ashley McFerlene is also starting her freshman year at Norland, agreed that the new facilities are a major improvement. “I hope the looks and the academics and everything match up,” she said.
Norland has gone from being an F-rated school to receiving B and C grades in recent years, a rating that is largely determined by student performance on state tests. The school has also markedly improved its graduation rate, which hovered around 54 percent eight years ago and has since increased to close to 90 percent.
This is a trajectory School Board member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway hopes the new facilities will inspire students and faculty to continue. “In addition to the buildings, the curriculum has been strengthened, our students are performing better, they are in an atmosphere of learning,” Holloway said. “That’s what they see here. An opportunity to continue a 21st century education.”
“Our kids have the best now,” said Norland principal Reginald Lee, adding that he believes having state-of-the-art facilities will help motivate students.
Like other schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Norland is offering students new thematic “choice” programs this year: a sports medicine and sports management program funded by the Miami Dolphins; and a new music program.
This is the trend throughout South Florida: more choices of thematic programs and more technology in classrooms. Miami-Dade is offering 61 new choice programs this year, and Broward has redesigned 11 of its magnet programs and increased the number of schools with dual language programs.
The only bad news to dampen the back-to-school excitement? All the extra cars on the road. Traffic in Miami-Dade and Broward is sure to be especially congested this week as parents drop off their children at school.
Check www.MiamiHerald.com throughout the morning for back-to-school updates, and share your experience and photos by tweeting @MiamiHerald. Be sure to include the hashtags, #FirstDayDade #FirstDayBroward
Kyra Gurney: 305-376-3205; @KyraGurney