Miami-Dade Superintendent Carvalho opens school year with digital focus

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho lauded student achievement while criticizing the state’s A-to-F school grading system as “dysfunctional” during Thursday’s opening of schools address.

The new school year begins for students Aug. 19.

"The state needs to decommission the old formula," he told hundreds of teachers and other school district employees gathered at the Fillmore in Miami Beach for the annual event. "This is a broken system that is hurting our kids."

Despite experiencing a rise in student performance and winning one of the country’s top education awards, the Broad Prize for Urban Education, a growing number of schools received failing grades from the state Department of Education. This year 68 schools (both district-run and charter) received a D or F - a 7 percent increase from last year.

The district plans to develop its own student and school achievement reporting system, district spokesman John Schuster said Friday. The system would follow state law, but offer its own accountability results.

Carvalho dedicated most of his address Friday to a commitment to digitizing schools by investing in new technology and expanding existing programs.

"The digitally disconnected are at a disadvantage right now," he said, adding that those without Internet access are unable to engage in academic and economic pursuits.

To help close the so-called digital divide, Carvalho announced plans to distribute 140,000 digital devices throughout the district and expand the "iPrep" program, which allows students to learn from home via the web. About 98 percent of "iPrep" participants scored highly in tests, he said.

The superintendent also announced plans to widen attendance boundaries and expand “choice” programs even more, as charter schools continue to grow in Miami-Dade.

"This is the right evolution of our system," he said.

And Carvalho said that the school upgrades funded with last fall’s bond referendum are going faster than expected and should be completed a year early.

He ended the address by challenging the district to raise its 80 percent high school graduation rate - which is already above the state average of 74 - to 90 percent by 2015.