Letters from the Issue of August 8, 2002

Can one man fix the nation's fourth-largest school system?

Wanted: Selfless Public Servants

Must be impervious to blunt trauma: Bravo to Rebecca Wakefield and her article about Merrett Stierheim ("Midterm Exam," August 7). Stierheim is perhaps the hardest-working, least-intimidated, and most upbeat person in South Florida. I would add "one of the smartest," but you really have to wonder: Who would single-handedly take on the challenges he has? The enormity of those challenges, however, underscores his intelligence, drive, commitment, and love of the community.

"Midterm Exam"confirmed all I'd read and heard about him from a protégé and assistant of his at the county, Steve Spratt. Within the last year, Spratt left the county. When I went to his going-away party, there were only three people I wanted to meet: Stierheim, Commissioner Katy Sorenson, and aviation department director Angela Gittens.

The fact that those three are willing to beat their heads against the wall day after day while facing the insurmountable tasks that are part of their work is testament to the county's resiliency. For those who say, "I'm gettin' the heck out of here," I would simply point to those three individuals. Their hard work deserves our praise and unwavering support.

Dave Frazier, Jr.
Coral Gables

So St. Peter Says to Stierheim ...

"Some guy named DeFede just called": Rebecca Wakefield's interview and assessment of Merrett Stierheim was the best piece of reporting I've read in New Times in months.

I sincerely hope that whenever Merrett meets his maker, he is not subjected to the poison pen of the Herald's Jim DeFede, who recently defiled the memory of two other local luminaries, Leonard Miller and George Batchelor.

Jim Gordon
North Miami

I Survived Miami-Dade Public Schools

No thanks to certain teachers and principals: As a former student in the Miami-Dade Public Schools, I applaud Merrett Stierheim's reform efforts, but he shouldn't stop at the top levels of district administration. Many schools suffer from incompetent and overpaid administrators, including school principals. While at Horace Mann Middle I was treated to having three principals in three years and never even learned their names. The second decided to spend big bucks on a large stone engraved with the school name and mascot, even though we didn't have enough books in our classes. (The monument was knocked over and broken into pieces within a week.)

While at Miami Beach Senior High, I witnessed the constant struggle between teachers and the administration. Teachers who spoke out against the principal didn't have their rooms cleaned and were subjected to other forms of harassment.

And sadly, when it comes to "F" schools, some teachers are squarely to blame. I have witnessed many teachers tell students it was okay for them not to excel or even try hard because they were immigrants and not expected to handle normal school work. My favorite was a teacher who would stand in a hallway talking to other teachers for hours at a time while teaching her class using a videotape.

Samantha Wildt
Hollywood

The Mother of the Tribe

Miccosukee to feds: We know the Everglades better than you: Mike Clary's article "God's Eye on the Sparrow" (July 18) should have been titled "Playing God in the Everglades." For, as he reported, government agencies have decided which parts of the Everglades and its species will be protected and which will be destroyed.

The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians has lived in the Everglades since time immemorial. Our culture and way of life are tied to the land. We fight to protect it. The agencies implementing these environmentally destructive actions have no historical familiarity with the Everglades. They pay lip service to restoration but their actions are anti-restoration. They hold water below natural levels in Everglades National Park and above natural levels on tribal lands north of the park. Their harmful conduct persists even though it has not even helped the sparrow.

The government chooses to ignore the damage being inflicted on the Everglades as a result of the unnatural diversion of water for the sparrow. One ecologist would have your readers believe the problems with the sparrow plan are all bureaucratic. On the contrary, they are very real. Five years of so-called sparrow "emergencies" have closed flood gates and backed up water on tribal lands. Sustained flooding has caused irreparable harm to hundreds of thousands of acres of critical habitat for the endangered snail kite, and incalculable damage to our culture and way of life. Sadly this is the same land the government promised to preserve in its natural state in perpetuity for the benefit and use of the tribe.

The new sparrow plan will degrade 88,300 acres of tribal Everglades land and kill and injure endangered snail kites for five more years. It will also continue to adversely impact other areas of the ecosystem, including Lake Okeechobee, Florida Bay, and the coastal estuaries. Current modeling shows it will increase flooding to some urban and agricultural areas of Miami-Dade County. This embarrassing plan is the result of the government's refusal to heed the advice of the Miccosukee people, who have evolved in kinship with these lands. Decades ago government officials diked the Everglades against the advice of tribal elders. This human interference with the natural flow created conditions that allowed the sparrow to settle into an unnaturally dry area where it did not live before. Now they claim the sparrow needs the water "just right." Don't they know the natural Everglades is an environment of extremes?

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