We’ll dispense with the bad news first: In Miami-Dade County on Monday morning, there will be tears, butterflies in the stomach and, of course, a whole lot of cars on the road.
It’s the first day of school, and there’s bound to be some drama.
It’s likely, however, that much of it will be offset by the changes and improvements that will greet many students and teachers in the morning.
▪ There are 53 new programs across the district, including magnet, advanced placement and college-level curricula. In addition, there will be more support for disabled students and expanded Spanish-language curriculum. The latter is a direct result of parents’ concerns that their kids were going to be left behind in a community — and country — in which being bilingual is becoming ever more important. Good move.
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▪ Technology continues to bring 21st-century learning and teaching into the classroom. The $1.2 billion bond issue that Miami-Dade taxpayers approved in 2012 is the gift that keeps on giving, including 11,000 Promethean Boards, whiteboards that, with teaching software, provide students interactive learning experiences, and thousands of take-home devices. This will give students who do not have computers at home a boost. Without this help, they would be handicapped when taking the state’s new computer-based testing because they are less proficient with touchpads and screens.
▪ Before they even get to the classrooms, many students will have reached their destination via “flex stops.” These are hubs where students can gather to board buses to any one of several schools. Makes sense. Three new apps will let parents track the buses, outfitted with wi-fi, by the way.
▪ No more out-of-school suspensions for students who are acting out. Too often, this policy only exacerbated discipline problems, allowing those students to exhibit even worse — and possibly criminal — behavior with no monitoring whatsoever. Out-of-school suspensions got troublemakers out of the classroom, but as schools chief Alberto Carvalho told the Editorial Board recently, did not come close to “addressing the roots of the behavior.” Now they will be kept on site at what are being called “success centers,” with teachers and counselors. This is one more important step in dismantling the “school to prison pipeline,” into which a disproportionate number of minority — particularly African-American — students are pushed.
▪ Back to the bond: Mr. Carvalho told the Editorial Board recently that of the 210 school construction and renovation projects, 42 had been completed; 73 were under way; 58 were in the design stage; and 37 were out for bid. He said, too, that he expected 14 more projects to be completed — including a gorgeous new MAST Academy — by the time Monday’s school bell rings.
▪ There are three more clinics available for school-district employees, their families and retirees. In addition, there are clinics for parents and their children, sited where data indicated the greatest need. Access to healthcare and violence in the surrounding neighborhood are among the criteria used. It’s an astute acknowledgment that schools must serve the broader community and that what happens outside school walls affects the ability to learn inside.
Students, faculty and administrators will face challenges, of course, as they do every year. Testing, for sure, but at least there won’t be as many of them — 24 fewer — which means a lot fewer of those butterflies in the stomach.