Superintendent of Miami-Dade Alberto Carvalho discusses Back to School Changes in our New Normal

August 1, 2020

 

 

Superintendent, tell us about your formal education and how you initially
developed the passion to educate children?


Anyone who knows me can tell you that I draw much inspiration from my father.
He was very wise, and despite having only a third-grade education, he taught me
some of the most important lessons of my life. My informal education continued
as I worked my way to the United States from Portugal as a teen. My formal
education began right here, in South Florida, at Broward College. This was thanks
to the late Florida Congressman E. Clay Shaw, who I met while I was waiting
tables and who years later helped me obtain a student visa and a work permit.
After Broward College, I attended Barry University with the goal of becoming a
Doctor. I began my collegiate career as a pre-Med student, doing research with a
background in chemistry, biology and physics. I was on my way to achieving that
goal when, somehow, it hit me: I left Portugal, my family and the home I knew
and loved in search of opportunities, in part because of my love of education.
These are the interesting turns that sometimes life puts in front of you. That is
how I found myself in education as a science teacher. It was at that point that I
truly knew that my purpose was to help my students move forward through
education. Since then, through Miami-Dade County Public Schools, I have been
privileged to work with incredible colleagues, as part of a community that
believes in education as a way to provide our children an opportunity to achieve
their greatest potential.


Many families are very excited and also concerned about the upcoming school
year during this difficult time of COVID-19. What is going to be the plan for kids
to continue with their formal education?


During these uncertain times, one thing is certain: our plan to educate Miami-
Dade’s kids is moving forward. By that I mean that although we understand that

Miami Kids Magazine questionnaire draft in-person, face-to-face instruction is the

best way to educate children, we are ready to pivot to online learning, through our

comprehensive and innovative My School Online program. As you know, in March

we were able to successfully transition students from in-person learning to distance

learning swiftly, in part due to the District’s longstanding commitment to digital

convergence, which made the transition more seamless. Since the start of the

pandemic, we have continued to develop, expand, and innovate our academic

instruction. Before the school year ended, we had already begun implementing our

Securing Opportunities for Academic Recovery plan to mitigate learning loss for

students most vulnerable to academic regression due to the pandemic. All these

steps laid the foundation for our tentative reopening plan, which gives parents

choices on how their children would move forward with their education in the fall.

The comprehensive plan includes extensive professional development for our
teachers, a streamlined distance learning platform, infrastructure enhancements
and better tools to teach and learn, whether the student is in school or at home.
In short, whether through brick-and-mortar school, if scientific data proves local
health conditions will allow for it, or through distance learning, we will continue
to provide a world-class education to our students.


Why have you and your Board decided to have three different school models,
the traditional in-school model, the distance-online learning model, and a
hybrid model? Is this decision based on the survey you sent out to parents?

 

Our School Board is truly committed to the education of our children, and they
agree that providing parents options during this difficult and unprecedented time
in our community is the best course to take. Part of that commitment was
approving a plan that will allow the school district to pivot easily between learning
models, under the current, fluid circumstances. I thank them for their support and
commitment to finding the best way forward. As far as the school models, our
plan was based directly upon feedback we received from our parents and
teachers, along with the valuable recommendations proffered by our reopening
workgroup, comprised of health, logistics and education experts, parents and
business leaders. I am thankful to all our stakeholders for their support, and for
prioritizing the health and wellbeing of our students and staff.


We know that you were very active at the end of the last school year, while kids
studied virtually, giving out lunches every day. In the case that we will have
some days of school from home, is this lunch service going to still be available
for the students?

 

No child shall go hungry on our watch. As we speak, the District is developing
alternative meal service options for our return to a physical school environment
when conditions are safe to do so. These options include grab-and-go meals to be
eaten in the classroom or outdoor spaces, classroom meal delivery models for
younger students and much more. I invite your readers to visit our reopening
schools’ website, reopening.dadeschools.net, and read our tentative reopening
plan. We are also exploring additional options for meal service to students who
are learning from home. Since school closures began in March, we have provided
millions of to-go meals to students across our community, including over the
summer months.


Finally, we know the most fragile communities may need additional support, so
through our partnership with local restaurants and food providers, and thanks to
more than $1 million in philanthropic donations, our Family Meals-on-the-Go
meal distribution program has enabled us to distribute an additional 85,000 hot
meals over the summer in the neighborhoods that need them most. Anyone
interested in supporting these efforts can find out more at
www.giveourstudentstheworld.org.


Is there a plan to have school buses with social distancing?


The health and wellness of students and staff is our top priority, and that does not
stop at the schoolhouse. We have developed protocols to provide the safest
possible experience on our buses. To give you an idea of the magnitude of our
transportation operations, last school year we had 1,050 buses covering 863 bus
routes across the district. We have one of the largest school bus fleets in the
world. Our tentative reopening plan made sure that the opportunity for education
in a safe way starts the moment our children board the school bus to go to school.
Our safety protocols start at the bus stop where we will encourage social
distancing and require students and staff to wear face coverings before entering
the buses, and throughout the ride. As far as the buses themselves, we are adding

Miami Kids Magazine questionnaire draft bus routes and adjusting current ones to

accommodate reduced occupancy to facilitate social distancing, intensifying

cleaning protocols, and installing protective barriers for bus drivers and hand

sanitizing stations for all to use. And speaking of our bus drivers, we are currently

hiring additional drivers to support reduced occupancy per bus.


We know this is a difficult time in our community and there are no easy answers.
But we are making our decisions about all aspects of our schools reopening plan
based on science and medical expertise to provide innovative educational
offerings. Rest assured that we will continue to prioritize the health and wellbeing
of the students in our care and the committed professionals who facilitate their
learning. You can count on us.

 

As a leader in our community, and with all the responsibility you have on your
shoulders, Miami Kids Magazine wants to recognize your hard work during the
entire year and throughout the summer knowing that you and your staff didn't
have any time to rest because you were making important decisions
contemplating several models of schooling and listening to experts. We are sure
that any decisions you are going to make will be most beneficial to all the
students and parents.

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