Navarro cruises, two other school board races go to runoffs

For the Miami Herald

Incumbent Lubby Navarro cruised to an overwhelming win for the District 7 seat on the Miami-Dade County School Board, while the two other contests are headed to November runoffs.

Navarro, the former executive director of intergovernmental affairs for Miami-Dade public schools, beat former teacher Aster Bato Mohamed by a wide margin in the race to represent a district that includes parts of Kendall, South Miami Heights and Homestead.

"I'm so honored, so humbled by the confidence that my constituents have placed in me. This has been a very humbling experience to get the support of my community,” Navarro said.

Lubby Navarro, left, and Aster Bato Mohamed are running for the District 7 seat on the Miami-Dade County school board.

This is Navarro’s first election — she was appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Scott in 2015. Navarro plans to advocate for increased parental participation in schools, support for special needs programs, and higher teacher salaries.

“Our teachers on the front lines, having that support has been so pivotal in my election,” Navarro said. “We really have to help the teachers."

In the most highly contested School Board race in Miami-Dade county, incumbent Wilbert “Tee” Holloway finished with a narrow lead over his main challenger, Steve Gallon III. Neither of them secured the 50-percent vote total needed to avoid a runoff.

Wilbert "Tee" Holloway, left, and Steve Gallon III are running for the District 1 seat on the Miami-Dade County school board.

Holloway, a retired AT&T executive, faces his first serious challenge for the seat representing Miami Gardens, Carol City and North Miami since being appointed to the School Board by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007. He has traded jabs with Gallon in recent weeks over Gallon’s controversial tenure as the superintendent of the Plainfield school district in central New Jersey and Holloway’s leadership of the now-defunct James E. Scott Community Association.

This would be Holloway’s third full term on the School Board. He has cited improved graduation rates, new school buildings, an increase in School Board contracts awarded to minority-owned companies and reforms in the district’s suspension policy as some of his achievements on the board.

Gallon, meanwhile, has pledged to advocate for a more equitable distribution of school resources and higher teacher pay and has promised to improve the academic performance of students in District 1, which is home to some struggling schools. Gallon served as principal of Northwestern Senior High and as a Miami-Dade district administrator before moving to New Jersey in 2008.

The third candidate for District 1, former state representative James Bush III, finished close to 20 percent behind both Holloway and Gallon at the polls.

From left: Modesto "Mo" Abety, Maria Teresa "Mari Tere" Rojas, Gus Machado and Pedro Mora are running for the District 6 seat on the Miami-Dade County school board.

Meanwhile, Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas, a former Miami-Dade teacher, principal and administrator, finished first in the race to represent District 6, which includes Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and South Miami. She had a double-digit lead over the closet of three opponents — Modesto “Mo” Abety, the former president of The Children’s Trust — but her vote total hovered just below the 50-percent vote total needed to avoid a runoff.

“I am humbled and honored for the tremendous support as a first time candidate,” Rojas said. “This process has always been about continuing my work as a passionate teacher and educator.”

Rojas, sister-in-law of county Mayor Carlos Gimenez, has pledged to improve school safety, expand special needs and early childhood education programs, and increase support for school counselors to help identify and mentor at-risk youth.

Abety has promised to expand early childhood education programs, increase recess time, improve teacher pay and advocate for less high-stakes standardized testing in schools.

Also in the race for District 6 were two former teachers turned businessmen: Gus Machado, a corporate travel salesman, and Pedro Mora, a security consultant.

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.