Op-Ed: Continuing to Make Progress in M-DCPS

Susie (Official Headshot)

Susie V. Castillo, School Board Member, District 5

As we near the conclusion of another school year, it is my pleasure to share with you highlights from our year thus far. Just last month, the Education Equality Index (EEI) found that Miami-Dade County Public Schools have slight, or non-existent, achievement gaps among students. The first-of-its-kind index is national comparative measure of the achievement gap among students, based on income. Achievement gaps are traditionally defined as differences in academic performance among students based on gender, race, or socio-economic status. The index shows whether – and how quickly – schools and cities are closing the achievement gap. Results for cities evaluated in Miami-Dade reveal that City of Hialeah schools have the smallest achievement gap, while City of Miami ranks third. In spite of the poverty and language challenges facing our students, these two major cities in our community have the smallest achievements gaps among major U.S. cities evaluated. The study was funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and developed in partnership with Education Cities and Great Schools.

This spring, Magnet Schools of America (MSA), a national organization representing over 4,000 magnet schools and programs, recognized 37 Miami-Dade magnet programs with awards for the 2015-2016 school year. The organization annually recognizes magnet schools and programs for their commitment to high academic standards, curriculum innovation, diversity efforts, specialized teaching staffs, and parent/community involvement. Miami-Dade magnet schools received 29 of the 169 Magnet Schools of Distinction Merit Awards, and eight received the Magnet Schools of Excellence Merit Awards. Schools earning these MSA awards rank within the top 5% of all magnet schools in the nation. This is the fifth year in a row that M-DCPS out-performs all other school districts nation-wide in terms of total awards received.

In legislative news, another session has come to an end, and this year, we have quite a few successes to celebrate, including an Adults with Disability grant funded at $1.12 million. The District’s top legislative priority of mitigating the impact of the loss of property tax revenues, was successfully achieved. Specific to improving the Value Adjustment Board process, Representative Bryan Avila sponsored HB 499 in the House, and Senator Anitere Flores sponsored SB 766, its Senate companion. The bill passed in both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor; it revises the Value Adjustment Board proceedings to achieve greater efficiency and timeliness in processing appeals.

In addition, HB 7029 containing the District’s Seal of Biliteracy initiative, also passed. This was a proposal presented by our Chair, Ms. Perla Tabares Hantman, and unanimously approved by the Board last year. The legislation will allow a Seal of Biliteracy award to a student who has attained proficiency in English, and one or more other foreign languages by high school graduation. The seal will be affixed to the student’s high school diploma and included in his or her transcript.  It will serve to certify the student’s attainment of biliteracy to employers and postsecondary institutions.

In terms of our facilities, we have now invested over $200 million in our schools thanks to your generosity in supporting our Bonds for Schools program, approved by voters in 2012.  We have invested in a range of projects, big and small; from window replacements and lighting improvements, to A/C replacements and bathroom remodeling, we have made every effort to enhance our school facilities as much as possible. It has not always been easy, and there have been challenges, but we have worked together to stretch each dollar and prioritize schools based on need. To date, we have completed approximately 220 projects and have about 300 more to go. As we move into the summer months, we look forward to continuing to advance and move up more projects. You can track our progress at any time, by school, city, and/or Board Member district, online at: www.BondsForSchools.net.

Lastly, I would like to encourage all parents and community members to take an active role in our schools. We have many opportunities for members of our community to get involved, from our PTA/PTSAs to our School Volunteer program and booster clubs. We always welcome your input, talent, and ideas toward making our school district better.

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