The future is with us – five simple words that when taken together have profound meaning and carry immense responsibility. It is this meaning and responsibility that continue to fuel Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ (M-DCPS) drive to excel and move beyond the familiar to the extraordinary.
On Monday, August 21, school doors across the district opened wide to welcome more than 350,000 students back for another chart-topping school year. I visited many of those schools on the first day, and had the opportunity to meet with some of our district’s brightest educators, including our extraordinary school leaders. This is always a joy for me. Just as gratifying is the interaction with students and the opportunity to look into their eyes full of hope, wonder and ebullience for the discovery and learning that await them in the year ahead. The experience provides an immediate bolt of energy that quite frankly buoys me throughout the year.
And while, as a school community, we must contend with challenges that are prompted by ill-fated legislative decisions testing our mettle, but strengthening our resolve, I am confident that this school year will be another year of rigorous instruction and robust student learning. The recent passage of House Bill 7069 by the Florida Legislature drastically reducing state education funding to public school districts was a major disappointment; yet, we were not deterred. Community and business partners who share our values have stood with us to compel lawmakers to make funding decisions that do not harm the classroom nor undermine student achievement, but honor the exceptional work of teachers and students. Our students, teachers, and employees have clearly demonstrated their desire to excel. This is evidenced by the fact that we begin this school year with an astounding 66 percent of schools rated “A” or “B” and zero schools rated “F”. While we will never label nor limit students’ ability and potential to succeed, we must celebrate their remarkable achievements and the steady gains in student academic progress.
Innovation and ingenuity are the hallmarks of M-DCPS. We consistently find new and creative ways to deliver quality instruction that bolsters student achievement, challenging ourselves to be greater than the year before. This year is no different as we rolled out 55 new choice/magnet programs and 27 initiatives. A growing number of schools have magnet or choice programs in a wide array of disciplines such as Visual and Performing Arts; STEM; Hospitality and Tourism; Information Technology; Health Sciences, and Biomedical. To date, we have more than 950 choice programs at schools across the District giving students a diverse lineup of academic courses and programs from which to choose. It doesn’t end there. With nearly 30 new initiatives to support instruction in the classroom and enhance district and school operational effectiveness we are on target for another winning school year.
Expansion, renovation, and upgrades are happening all over the district through our highly successful and well managed 21st Century Schools program made possible through the General Obligation Bond which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2012. Last year, the district opened two new schools: Miami Norland Senior High and MAST at Key Biscayne. This year, we opened three new schools: Frederick Douglass Elementary, Bunche Park Elementary, and Dr. Toni Bilbao Preparatory Academy with a combined $35 million investment and a capacity of more than 1,300 student stations in impeccably designed state-of-the-art school buildings. In addition, schools across the District are receiving upgrades and renovations as a result of the bond. A promise made is a promise kept as we build schools, strengthen our communities and create opportunities for economic growth right here in Miami-Dade.
As we settle into the 2017-2018 academic year, there is no denying that the first weeks of school are always busy, some may even say chaotic. Regardless, it is important to pause and reflect on what a new school year means. I am deliberate in doing exactly this; it’s my routine. When I look at the bright, enthusiastic faces of students finding their way to class on the first day, I know what the new school year means. When I meet parents full of hope and expectation for their children both personally and academically, I know what the new school year means. When I talk to educators and school leaders who are determined to positively impact the life of every child in their care, I know what the new school year means. It means embracing present opportunities made possible by a legacy of achievement fortified by business and community partnerships, while looking ahead to the future - one that is full of aspiration and promise.
Yes, the future is with us. It is brilliant and glorious, illuminating our path as we expand our community of learners and elevate student academic achievement across the school district. We are future ready.
In just a few weeks, schools across the District will punctuate the end of another school year with celebrations, award and commencement ceremonies. Like a time-honored tradition, students, parents, teachers, and school site staff beam with excitement as graduation season begins for our seniors and we look ahead with boundless anticipation to the next level of teaching and learning for students returning in the fall. While this time of year is exhilarating and signals the completion of our collective, targeted and goal-oriented work, it’s also a time to reflect on the accomplishments and milestones that have guided us to the finale of another stellar academic year.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) is the best in the nation. More than just an affirmation, it is, in my estimation and that of many others, a fact as demonstrated by the remarkable work of our teachers and employees and the achievements of our students - all of whom are the best of the best. We continue to achieve exceedingly high graduation rates surpassing that of other large Florida school districts. This year and for the past several years, M-DCPS has received numerous state and national honors recognizing our phenomenal efforts to increase student achievement and to ensure equity of student access to accelerated coursework. Just recently, the school system was selected as the recipient of the third Donna Grady-Creer District Award for Magnet Sustainability by Magnet Schools of America (MSA). The award is MSA’s designation of the highest performing school district of the year exemplifying a commitment to equity, excellence, diversity, and highly sustained support of magnet schools. In addition, M-DCPS academies received more distinguished and model level designations from National Academy Foundation (NAF) than any other district in the nation. U.S. News & World Report announced its annual list of America’s Best High Schools and M-DCPS was a leader both statewide and nationally. The district is home to seven of the top 100 high schools in the country, half of the schools in Florida’s Top 20 and four – 40 percent – of Florida’s Top 10.
While we maintain cautious optimism about the future of education in Miami-Dade’s public schools, we cannot ignore the reality of today. Recently, state lawmakers made the ill-advised and unthinkable decision to dramatically cut funding to public education. If not vetoed by the governor, the impending impact of this legislation will have adverse and, in some respects, irreparable consequences, leaving our schools, classrooms and students devastated. The education of our children – all children – should be the foremost priority of the legislature, and that means appropriate funding.
Innovation, efficiency, accountability, and integrity continue to define the District’s financial practices as budget decisions are driven by instructional needs and the highest priority on student learning. Our fiscal diligence has been noted by Standard and Poor’s (S&P) Global Ratings. In April, S&P raised the District’s long-term rating from “A+” to “AA-“ with a stable outlook.
I am profoundly proud of our students, workforce, parents, community partners, as well as the results we deliver every single school day in every classroom across the District. Together we are reimaging education, expanding academic enrichment opportunities, and building school facilities that support innovation and global learning. This year has been remarkable. Next year will be even better.
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Words, once offered by legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, perfectly encapsulate the journey of Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS). A school district once in the throes of financial uncertainty and the challenge of expanding student access to rigorous academic programs, M-DCPS has emerged as one of the most innovative and progressive school districts in the nation. Our team of instructional architects, curriculum experts, creative strategists, and financial wizards has worked collectively to cement the school district’s position as a leader in classroom instruction and business operations.
While the last several years have set M-DCPS on a trajectory of trendsetting, history-making school district achievements which include the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education, it is the 2015-2016 school year that perfectly illustrates the depth and impact of Miami-Dade’s programs and initiatives. In just a few days the school year will end, but the impact of this year’s programming on the M-DCPS tradition of achievement and excellence will continue.
There have been challenges, especially with the inconsistent meter of student testing and accountability. But the good news for Miami-Dade is that in 2015 students continued to outperform their peers on national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the College Board SAT. We are making all the right moves in Miami-Dade to ensure students excel at the highest levels.
In a world that is increasingly reliant on technology, Miami-Dade realizes that preparing students to succeed in a digital economy requires making a substantial investment in instructional resources that expand students’ learning experiences. Through a technology-focused approach, we have opened a whole new world of learning to students by distributing an additional 43,000 digital devices, bringing the total number of devices distributed to 104,000.
The forward-thinking style of our education team bolstered by the visionary leadership of our School Board led this school year to the creation of a Bi-literacy Seal to recognize students who study and master world languages. Our School Board leaders knew this was a worthwhile initiative even if no other school district had a similar seal. Apparently, we are doing something right - the idea caught the attention of state policymakers. The Florida Legislature, following the lead of our School Board, approved a landmark State Seal of Bi-literacy Program. Once again, M-DCPS leads the way.
While the 2015-2016 school year has seen remarkable achievements and extraordinary progress, it also has witnessed unspeakable tragedy and loss. For a community that cares about the welfare of children, it’s heartbreaking to consider the senseless and reckless violence that has permeated neighborhoods, claiming the lives of far too many children. Changing the reality is a formidable challenge, but it is a challenge that can be overcome.
Clearly, traditional instruction is fundamental to a child’s intellectual development, but we also must look beyond traditional pedagogy and teach children the importance of core values such as cooperation, respect, and kindness. These lessons are far-reaching in a child’s life outside the classroom and after graduation. Each month, students from schools across Miami-Dade are recognized for demonstrating any one of nine core values under our Values Matter initiative. These are values taught in our schools so that students graduate knowing what it means to be responsible citizens.
The excitement of the accomplishments of students, teachers and employees is only matched by the exuberance of graduation and watching as students walk proudly across the stage to receive their high school diploma. We continue to see record-high graduation rates.
As we close out the 2015-2016 school year and move into summer vacation, it’s important to remember that learning is a year-round activity. Students have the opportunity to remain academically involved and connected through summer internships, summer camps, and eLearning resources. Providing opportunities for students to remain engaged over the summer not only supports their academic development, but their personal safety and well-being as well.
With one school year behind us and a new one well in view, I am compelled to pause and reflect on the triumphant and determined spirit of the M-DCPS family - people like Aaron Willis, a student paralyzed as a result of gun violence, but who persevered and graduated in June and will attend college in the fall, or principal Javier Perez who despite being the victim of a horrific accident still possesses an upbeat resolve and uncompromised optimism, or the four high school students – Santiago de La Vega, Katier Rodriguez, Elba Garcia, and Tenka Stringer – who used their CPR training to save the lives of others. These courageous individuals represent the very best of our school district. They and every member of the M-DCPS family are the reason ACHIEVEMENT is our goal and EXCELLENCE is our moniker.