Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has quite a life story. The son of a janitor, he grew up in Portugal in a one-room apartment with no running water or electricity. Yet he became the only one of six kids to graduate from high school. He then came to the United States and stayed without documents, working in construction and as a dishwasher. He was even homeless.
After graduating from college with a biology degree, he taught physics, chemistry, and calculus at Miami Jackson Senior High before being named superintendent in 2008.
In recent weeks, Republican and Democratic insiders have contacted him about running for the congressional seat occupied by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who plans to retire next year. An anonymous top Florida Democrat told Politico that Carvalho would be "the instant frontrunner."
There's no doubt about it. And that is no good for students in our schools.
Carvalho has built a national profile by turning around the nation's fourth-largest school district after decades of scandal under predecessors Roger Cuevas and Rudy Crew. He is an honorable man who cares about children from every corner of Miami-Dade.
Illustration by Alex Izaguirre
He led a successful 2012 campaign for a $1.2 billion bond issue and has made sure inner-city communities reaped the benefits. Bond money has been used to rebuild institutions such as Miami Norland and Miami Central Senior High Schools.
At the end of the 2015-16 school year, more than 80 percent of high-school seniors graduated, a 21 percent jump from 2007 and an all-time record for Miami-Dade Public Schools.
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And there is no doubt the man loves the kids. In March, Carvalho publicly declared his allegiance to undocumented immigrant children attending classes. "Over my dead body will any federal entity enter our schools to take immigration actions against our kids," Carvalho said. And he has paid for the funerals of children killed by gun violence and donated to inner-city youth programs out of his own pocket.
If Carvalho leaves — and he swears he wants to stay — Miami-Dade Public Schools will again become a banana republic.
The school board needs to extend his contract for a long time. Great superintendents like Carvalho are hard to find.