Miami learned today what a difference it can make when you show someone you appreciate their work.
Less than 24 hours ago, it seemed Alberto Carvalho would leave sunny Miami-Dade for the bright lights and cold days of New York City. Reports that the Miami-Dade County Public Schools chief had accepted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's offer to become the Big Apple's top educator quickly spread across South Florida and sent shock waves across the county.
But a strong show of support by school board members, community leaders, activists (including yours truly), students, and parents convinced Carvalho that Miami is home and he has unfinished business here. After two recesses during an emergency school board meeting today, Carvalho said he turned down de Blasio's offer and will stay.
Had Carvalho chosen to leave, it would have been the saddest moment in the history of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The superintendent has done a phenomenal job making the nation's fourth-largest school district a model for public education without the baggage his predecessors carried.
There was Johnny Jones, whose career ended in disgrace after he was busted for stealing school funds to pay for gold plumbing in his house. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 1980. In the '90s, Roger Cuevas reigned over the district with a management style that would have made Hugo Chávez blush. Under Cuevas' tenure, he and dozens of his top administrators received graduate degrees from diploma mills, and Miami Senior High's basketball team was stripped of its championship title for breaking rules on eligibility, recruiting, and residency. The district under his watch paid $2 million to sexual harassment victims of two former principals and gave plum jobs to his friends and family, among other shenanigans.
In 2004, after forcing out community pillar Merrett Stierheim, the school board hired ex-New York City schools chancellor Rudy Crew, whose administration turned out to be even worse than Cuevas'. Under Crew, 24 Miami-Dade public schools received failing grades and he was rebuked by a Miami-Dade County grand jury for trying to cover up a school sex scandal.
Since taking the reins from Crew in 2008, Carvalho has led a remarkable turnaround for Miami-Dade County Public Schools:
- He championed a $1.2 billion general obligation bond program approved by voters that has allowed the district to renovate and modernize dozens of public schools in Miami's inner-city neighborhoods, including Northwestern, Miami Central Senior High, and Miami Norland Senior High.
- The dropout rate has steadily declined. In 2016, the district boasted an 80.4 percent graduation rate, up from 58.7 percent in 2007 and the highest in Miami-Dade County Public Schools history.
- The same year, Miami-Dade had only seven schools with failing grades, down from 16 in 2015 and 26 in 1999, the first year the state assigned letter grades to schools.
Carvalho has a deep bond with Miami's African-American community because he began his career as a teacher at Jackson Senior High. He has seen our struggles firsthand and made it his mission to help children from impoverished neighborhoods get the best education possible. He has also used his position to raise awareness about youth gun violence and to fight for immigrant children. He has paid out of his own pocket for funerals of children killed by firearms. Carvalho genuinely loves Miami-Dade's kids.
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But there are political factions that have been trying undermine Carvalho. They were probably dancing at the news he was leaving for New York City. But replacing him with someone of the same caliber would be virtually impossible. That's why I stand with him.
It's like when Jimmy Johnson was coaching the Miami Dolphins and forced Dan Marino into retirement. The team still hasn't found anybody to replace the legendary quarterback and hasn't been able to make noise in the playoffs since.
If the school board ever allowed Carvalho to leave, it would be a travesty.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.