As I reflect on the 10 years of challenges and accomplishments since my appointment as Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent in September 2008, I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a community of educators and partners committed to opening a world of opportunities for our students.
I am proud of the work of our school district, our classroom teachers and school site leaders, who each day inspire children throughout the community. I am always eager to share the success stories that have shifted the trajectory of student achievement, cemented a winning approach to teaching and learning and strengthened business operations and the district’s financial solvency.
While we faced challenges along the way, our workforce remained resilient. I had then, and still do now, full faith in the skill and commitment of our team of educators and employees, and in the dedication and strong policy guidance of our School Board. Since 2008, our school district family, along with community and business partners, has realized extraordinary achievements and historic milestones.
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It’s hard to believe that just 10 years ago, the fiscal, operational, and academic foundations of the school district were fragile at best. At the outset of the Great Recession, our district was near bankruptcy. Many of our facilities were in serious need of improvements and renovations, we had a graduation rate of 60.5 percent and nine struggling schools were at risk of being closed by the state. Those were tumultuous times for the M-DCPS family and community. But we still were able to transform our school system.
A steady stream of accomplishments has followed, including winning the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2012, achieving system-wide accreditation, consistently leading the nation in student performance on national and state assessments, achieving a historic 84.2 percent graduation rate — besting the state and other large districts and increasing Advanced Placement exam passing rates. We have grown our student-centric, demand-driven choice options to nearly 1,000 programs.
This year, for the first time in our history, M-DCPS has become an A–rated school district, and for the second year in a row there are no F–rated traditional schools. This is a remarkable accomplishment since just a decade ago we had eight F-rated schools.
It’s not only in the classroom that we have excelled. In November 2012, we asked voters to demonstrate their desire to invest in the future of our students and schools and they did — overwhelmingly. Since the passage of the $1.2 billion General Obligation Bond, more than 400 school projects have been completed with dozens more under construction. During the economic recession, we steadied and progressively improved the district’s finances and obtained upgraded credit ratings from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.
In February, when tragedy struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 40 miles to the north, we rallied community support. This year, schools opened with a professional law enforcement officer in every school and enhanced security measures in place. However, with the understanding that so many times the tragic outcomes of violent acts could have been prevented if the signs of trouble were recognized, we have invested $6 million in a new Department of Mental Health to address the social and emotional needs of our students.
All that we have accomplished together has been made possible by the outstanding work of those teachers who touch children’s lives daily. While we have the finest educators in the world, we have been unable to compensate them in the manner they so richly deserve. This November, our community will have an opportunity to invest in retaining our teachers and securing our schools by making an informed decision on a proposed .75 mil ad valorem levy to improve compensation for teachers and instructional personnel and increasing safety and security staff.
I have faith that, once again, our community will step up in support of our schools, our teachers and our children. The return on this community investment, I assure you, will be realized tenfold.
Children come to school with an expectation not only to learn, but to be safe and inspired. Regardless of where they were born, what they look like or what faith they embrace, their young minds thirst for knowledge, their souls yearn for understanding and their imagination seeks to be awakened. I came to this country an unaccompanied, undocumented teenager with that same expectation and thirst. I was fortunate to have a good education and adults who believed in me, opening the doors to a brighter future. This is what I want for every student of M-DCPS. It’s a labor of love and at the heart of the work that lies ahead.
Alberto M. Carvalho is the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.