The Miami-Dade School Board is in for a small shake-up.
Steve Gallon III beat incumbent Wilbert “Tee” Holloway by double digits in the race to represent District 1, which includes Miami Gardens, Carol City and North Miami.
Holloway, a retired AT&T executive, was appointed to the School Board in 2007 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist and has been elected twice. Gallon, a former Northwestern Senior High School principal, was his first serious challenger.
“I'm very, very excited by the confidence and the engagement of the community in terms of the need to focus on our children in District 1,” Gallon said. “Our voters expect more and our children deserve more.”
Gallon said his first order of business will be to conduct “a thorough, more in-depth assessment of the academic performance” in District 1, focusing on schools that have received an “F” grade in recent years. “I do think we need to sound the alarm and not remain silent on the under-performance over the last five years of the school district in that community.”
In District 6, which includes Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and South Miami, Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas beat Modesto “Mo” Abety by double digits. Rojas is a former Miami-Dade teacher, principal and administrator and Abety is the former president of The Children’s Trust.
“This has been my love and my passion throughout my entire life and I have done this because I wanted to make a difference and give back not only to our community, but also to our wonderful children, our future leaders,” Rojas said. As a School Board member, Rojas said she plans to focus on safety and security in schools, programs for special needs children and early learning programs, in addition to raising teacher salaries.
“I want to make sure our children continue to get a world-class education second to none, but that is not possible if we do not compensate our teachers adequately, and I will definitely without a doubt be a voice as a former teacher myself and coming from a family of teachers that our teacher salary be revisited,” Rojas said.
The School Board races have been highly contested. In District 1, Holloway and Gallon traded heated rhetoric at candidate forums, with Holloway criticizing Gallon for his controversial tenure as the superintendent of the Plainfield school district in central New Jersey, and Gallon arguing that Holloway has not done enough to help struggling schools during his time on the School Board.
Meanwhile, Abety fended off allegations of Communist sympathizing, and accused Rojas of trying to “ride [the] coattails” of her brother-in-law, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The District 6 seat was previously held by Raquel Regalado, who gave up her seat to run for Miami-Dade county mayor.
Four other School Board seats were up this year. In the August primary elections, incumbent Lubby Navarro beat a challenger for the District 7 seat, which represents parts of Kendall, South Miami Heights and Homestead. Three School Board incumbents — Susie Castillo, Lawrence Feldman and Martin Karp — automatically won another four-year term in June after no one filed to run against them.
There is a lot at stake in the School Board races. The Miami-Dade school district is the fourth largest in the country and oversees a $5 billion budget and 350,000 students. School Board members make decisions about everything from school construction to homework and recess policies.