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For years, Miami-Dade County Public Schools faced problems common to many urban schools: low attendance, high dropout rates, poor grades. But since 2008, Alberto Carvalho has been in charge of the nation's fourth largest school district, and there've been some noticeable improvements in Miami schools. More students are graduating, fewer are dropping out, test scores are up and the district's budget crisis has faded.
NPR's Claudio Sanchez has this profile of the man some call a miracle worker.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: What Alberto Carvalho has accomplished since he became Miami-Dade's superintendent in 2008, few would have thought possible - but miraculous?
ALBERTO CARVALHO: There's been no divine intervention. I'm not a miracle worker.
SANCHEZ: Carvalho has been smart about giving others credit.
CARVALHO: I believe the credit goes to principals and teachers every single day.
SANCHEZ: When Carvalho took over, the country was in the depths of the recession. The district was nearly bankrupt. The school board and former superintendent were at each others' throats, and the state was threatening to shut down the district's worst schools. But Carvalho says there was a bright side.
CARVALHO: It was a window of opportunity.
SANCHEZ: He quickly made peace with the school board, which was seen as inept, disreputable and hopelessly divided. Current board member Raquel Regalado says Carvalho has helped change that image.
RAQUEL REGALADO: I think that what Alberto brings to the table is more of a unifying philosophy. You know, you don't see the level of disrespect that you saw.
SANCHEZ: Regalado says four years ago, people would tune in to watch school board meetings on TV expecting fist fights. It was like watching a bad telenovela.
With all that drama behind him, Carvalho then took an ax to the budget, slashing more than $2 billion, incredibly without firing a single classroom teacher. And this fall, he is even giving them a 2.7 percent pay raise. Quite a feat, says Brian Peterson, a professor at Florida International University.
BRIAN PETERSON: Another astonishing and wonderful thing that Carvalho did is he fired, he laid-off massive numbers of administrators. So millions and millions of dollars were saved, which is something that really is needed in this district.
SANCHEZ: Peterson writes an online education newsletter about the district. He's seen superintendents come and go since the 1980s. He says Carvalho is different in that he was a true insider - a former principal, a lobbyist for the district, then assistant superintendent.
Carvalho's first job, though, was here at Miami Jackson Senior High.
CARVALHO: I came in as a physics, chemistry and calculus teacher. So that's the wing that I taught. I taught on the third floor.
SANCHEZ: The 48-year-old Carvalho stands in one of the school's open air hallways pointing to a collection of old black and white pictures of the school. When he taught here in the 1990s, he was known as Mr. Armani, always impeccably dressed, like he is today in a tailored navy blue suit, crisp white shirt and bright blue tie. Jackson was a tough school, he says.
CARVALHO: The challenge back then was the same challenge that we face today: high poverty, a great deal of diversity, language challenges, a significant percentage of students who had disabilities. And I saw in those kids my own existence a few years ago.
SANCHEZ: Forty years ago, as an immigrant child from Portugal in a new country starting from scratch, Carvalho was not unlike the kids who arrive in Miami every day not knowing English and parents with little or no schooling.
CARVALHO: Parents did not understand their rights. A lot of them were too busy to orient their children, just trying to earn a living. So it was coming face-to-face with something I actually remembered.
SANCHEZ: Today, 74 percent of the 347,000 students in the system live in poverty. Many wouldn't eat if it wasn't for the meals they get at school. This has made it much, much tougher to get them at grade level.
When Carvalho took over, nine out of 10 students in the district's poorest performing high schools, including Jackson, were failing. Carvalho fired several principals and lured the best teachers to the worst schools by offering something akin to combat pay.
CARVALHO: And the results within the first year were amazing.
SANCHEZ: The percentage of ninth graders reading at grade level shot up from eight to 25 percent. Scores on state tests improved. But for all the progress students have made, many have not, and Miami-Dade's high schools are still performing quite poorly. At Jackson Senior High, for example, three out of four ninth graders today are still not reading at grade level.
NATHANIEL WILCOX: That's a travesty. So if you can't read, you can't even - that means you can't even fill out an application.
SANCHEZ: Nathaniel Wilcox is director of PULSE, People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality. He says Carvalho is letting way too many kids fall through the cracks.
WILCOX: A lot of our kids are drowning. And he's a life guard, and he's not doing his job.
SANCHEZ: Professor Brian Peterson shares the same concerns. He says some schools only look like they're doing better because principals are pushing struggling students out.
PETERSON: So they're sending them to places like GED programs, to adult vocational education. But many, many of these students don't actually register. They're on the streets. And so this is being swept under the rug.
CARVALHO: What he just said is absolutely nonsensical. There is no such thing as pushing out students.
SANCHEZ: If that was true, says Carvalho, Florida's Department of Education would be all over him. He insists the district's improved test scores and record 80 percent graduation rate have been validated by the state and outside organizations.
In 2012, Miami-Dade won The Broad Foundation prize for being the highest performing urban school system in America. The school board rewarded Carvalho with a five-year, $2 million contract extension. He says he's staying on one condition.
CARVALHO: I've told this community, I've told this board many times: The day that I feel that the political pressures prevent me from doing what I believe needs to be done, I leave.
SANCHEZ: That's unlikely. Carvalho's political skills have endeared him to the school board and key groups in the community. Still, he won't confirm or deny that he's talked to other large school systems in search of a new superintendent. If there's one enduring truism in public education, though, it's that even the most successful leaders come with a sort of expiration date. Then it's off to the next school system in need of a miracle worker. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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Mr. Carvalho has pushed a different agenda than Ms. Fariña’s, expanding the number of charter, magnet and other choice schools and programs, and promoting the use of technology in the classroom. He started a school called iPreparatory Academy where students work at their own pace, partly led by teachers and partly using online curriculum. Mr. de Blasio is a critic of charter schools; Ms. Fariña has not pursued opening new schools or programs, and technology has not played a large part in her plans.
Although test scores and graduation rates in New York City have steadily improved in recent years, the school system faces major challenges, including persistent racial and economic achievement gaps and segregation.
Shortly before Mr. de Blasio made his announcement on Wednesday, the Miami-Dade school board called an emergency meeting for Thursday morning “to discuss the stability of the executive management leadership.”
After Mr. de Blasio made his statement, a spokeswoman for Mr. Carvalho, Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, said only that he had been offered the job but had not accepted and would not comment until after he had met with the board.
In an unusual move, rather than scheduling a public announcement of the chancellor pick, the mayor’s office said that Mr. de Blasio had no scheduled events on Thursday.
Mr. de Blasio’s choice was first reported by Politico.
In 2008, around the time that Mr. Carvalho was appointed to the superintendent job in Miami-Dade, emails surfaced between him and a then-Miami Herald education reporter that led to speculation that the two had had an affair. Mr. Carvalho initially said that the emails were doctored, then said that they might be real, but denied that there had been a romantic relationship, saying they were each merely being “playful.” The reporter, who had since moved on to the Boston Globe, resigned from her job.
City Hall was aware of the allegations, said the mayor’s press secretary, Eric Phillips.
Mr. Carvalho’s appointment drew praise on Wednesday from diverse segments of the education universe.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, the president of Bank Street College of Education and a former senior deputy chancellor of the city’s education department under Mr. Bloomberg, described Mr. Carvalho as an “inspired choice,” saying that he “combines a strong commitment to equity, savvy political instincts and a willingness to try innovative approaches that deeply engage students in their own learning.”
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that, despite leadership at the state government level in Florida that she described as “overtly hostile to public education,” Mr. Carvalho “has had an open door towards educators and toward partnership and teamwork and has been able to move the Miami-Dade system because of that.”
Miami-Dade serves roughly 345,000 students, over 90 percent of whom are Hispanic or black and more than 70 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. In New York, nearly 70 percent of students are Hispanic or black, and a similar percentage qualify for the lunch benefits.
Mr. Carvalho earns a yearly salary of $352,874 in Miami compared to Ms. Fariña’s $234,569. Mr. Phillips said Mr. Carvalho will be paid $353,000, to match his Miami salary.
Mr. Carvalho grew up poor in Lisbon, Portugal, and was the first in his family to graduate from high school. At the age of 17, he flew to New York on a visa that he then overstayed. In New York, he washed dishes and worked as a busboy in restaurants. He made his way to Florida, where he worked in construction. He has said that at one point he spent a month being homeless, sleeping in a friend’s U-Haul truck. In a restaurant where he worked as a waiter, he met Representative E. Clay Shaw, a Republican congressman from the area, who helped him gain a student visa.
Mr. Carvalho has spent his entire career in the Miami-Dade school system, starting as a teacher at Miami Jackson Senior High, where he taught physics, chemistry and calculus. He went on to become an assistant principal, a lobbyist for the district, and an associate superintendent. He took over the district from Rudy Crew, himself a former New York City schools chancellor.
He has been an outspoken critic of President Trump’s immigration policies and defender of undocumented immigrants.
“Over my dead body will anyone walk into our schools and yank any child from the sanctity and the protection that schools, as sanctuaries of the young, provide,” he said in a speech last November. (This was perhaps more political rhetoric than a practical statement of policy. As a general rule, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents do not go into schools, which are considered “sensitive locations.”)
New York City’s most prominent chancellor in recent years was Joel I. Klein, whom Mr. Bloomberg appointed in 2002, shortly after he won mayoral control of the schools, and who served until 2010. Mr. Klein was considered a leader in the national education reform movement, and pioneered the practice of closing low-performing schools and replacing them with new schools on a large scale.
The mayor’s press secretary, Mr. Phillips, said that Ms. Fariña would leave in the next month but that Mr. Carvalho did not have an official start date yet. Mr. Phillips said that the mayor and Mr. Carvalho met twice, once in January and once in February. Both meetings were at Gracie Mansion, including one that included dinner.
Mr. de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, was also involved in the decision, Mr. Phillips said. Ms. McCray has played a role in many of Mr. de Blasio’s important hiring choices and recently has spoken along with the mayor at the news conferences to announce them.Continue reading the main story