With election campaigns underway as a new year began, three West Kendall residents so far have thrown their hats into the ring for the District 7 seat on the nine-member Miami-Dade County School Board.
As of Jan. 1, they are the only candidates opposing board member Lubby Navarro who was appointed to complete the unfilled term vacated by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo after he won the District 26 House of Representatives seat in 2014. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Navarro on Feb. 13, 2015 and she officially took office on Feb. 20.
Navarro, a former school district administrator, is challenged by Caroline Blanco, currently serving on the Community Council 11 Zoning Board of Appeals; George A. Fernandez, a former school resource officer, and Aster Mohamed, former Kendale Lakes Elementary school teacher and community activist.
While all seek a countywide office for the first time, Blanco was successful in her first bid for public office in 2012, winning a District 11 Community Council seat representing Sub Area 116.
Five of nine School Board seats are up for election in November with a June 20-24 week as deadline to qualify for the Aug. 30 primary balloting. The general election is Nov. 8.
Of five seats up for election, District 1 is the only other post with announced candidacies for incumbent Wilbert Holloway from Steve Gallon and James Bush; Martin Karp (District 3), Susana Castillo (District 5) and Lawrence Feldman (District 9) were still unopposed as of Jan. 1 although each is expected to draw opponents before the filing deadline.
District 7 is roughly bounded by SW 72nd Street (north); US1 (east); SW 232nd Street (south), and SW 177th (Krome) Avenue (west) and holds the largest Kendall population base with 165,064 registered voters.
The following are candidate profiles:
“We need a school board member experienced with the challenges of today’s classroom,” stated Carolina Blanco, noting that her Community Council involvement and years as a public school teacher “provide a balanced approach that best serves the students of Miami-Dade Public Schools [to ensure] greater success from the design phase at the school board to implementation in our classrooms.
“As a voice for the students, parents, community and our teachers, I understand their needs and have an active role at each capacity,” she added.
A lifelong Miami resident, Blanco graduated from G. Holmes Braddock High School, received her Associates in Arts from Miami Dade Community College and her bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Florida International University. She and her husband, Omar Blanco, are parents of two.
Beginning her teaching career at Devon Aire K-8 Center in 2008, followed by two years at Jesse J. McCrary Elementary Center, she has taught children with various exceptionalities at Coral Reef Elementary School since 2011 where she holds the position of Reading Liaison.
At Coral Reef, she also provides K-5 teachers with the most current information from the district Reading Coach monthly meeting and attends grade level planning. She also serves as a board member of the Educational Excellence School Advisory Council (ESSAC), attended the National Model Schools Conference, and in 2012 was voted by her peers as “Rookie Teacher of the Year.”
She won her community council position by a more than 10,000-vote margin over an incumbent member and serves as its elected Vice Chair.
“Many people run for school board for personal ambitions,” declared George Fernandez, adding, “I see myself as a man who truly represents the average citizen of Miami-Dade County.
Fernandez believes “our school board needs someone who can see things from a different perspective and address the concerns of the average person.”
A Cuban American who has lived in Miami since 1961, Fernandez grew up in Miami attending local public schools and graduating from Miami High School with the Class of 1975. He also graduated from Miami-Dade College earning an AA degree in Criminology. He has three grown children — Joseph, Amanda and Robert, all of whom attended public schools in Miami-Dade.
Fernandez retired after a 32-year career with the City of Miami Police Department, serving primarily throughout his career in the School Resource Officer Unit.
He worked closely with students, parents, teachers and school administrators, preventing truancy, drug abuse and juvenile delinquency in the schools, earning many awards and recognitions from schools and organizations for his leadership and outstanding service.
He continues serving Miami-Dade County Schools as a volunteer, helping mentor troubled youths and instructing students in the criminal justice program. In 2014 he was recognized as School Volunteer of the Year.
Aster B. Mohamed
Aster B. Mohamed, an active West Kendall community spokesperson and former elementary teacher, offers both her “honesty and integrity” as key reasons for seeking office for the first time.
“I am one of you — a teacher, parent and grandparent living in Kendall since 1976.
“Advocate for students, parents and community for over 30 years, I served our schools and community in leadership roles with honesty and integrity and now I am ready to apply my experience to serve you and our students,” she said.
Born in Ethiopia into a cattle-herding family, Mohamed came to the U.S. as an honors student by winning scholarships abroad to study for educational degrees in the U.S. In 1976, she began her elementary teaching career in Miami that included 17 years at Kendale Lakes Elementary School. Retiring in 2006, she became a Teacher-Counselor for the district’s Office of Personal Involvement and 2008-12 served as a Teacher/Counselor for The Parent Academy.
A former president of the Lord of Life Lutheran Church Pre-School, she also served as the church president as mother of three and grandmother of two who attend public schools. She served as president of the Kendale Lakes Parent-Teacher Association in 20114 and as chair for an advisory council for Educational Excellence.
Her community activities include service as vice president of Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations since 1983, as former chair and vice chair of the Miami-Dade Police Hammocks District Citizens Advisory Committee and as a member of the advisory board for an Open Space Taxing District in 2012.
She most recently led a 3,000-signature petition drive to seek public participation at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs before it approves a Tribal Land Trust status for the Miccosukee Tribe’s Golf and Country Club located in Kendale Lakes.
“I strongly feel I can best represent the educational needs of the families and children in District 7 due to the my professional experience having worked since 2002 in our public school system in various capacities and my understanding of the important issues facing parents and children today in my community,” said Lubby Navarro, current District 7 board member.
“As a parent of child with special needs in our public school system, I feel parents are the ‘strongest voice’ to direct policy changes that benefit our children’s educational opportunities.”
Born in Cuba, Navarro, a Miami area resident for more than 30 years, has resided in the South Dade for more than 18 years. A graduate of Miami Springs High School, she received her bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Florida International University.
Mother of a Miami high school student, she began her public service career in 1995 serving as a legislative assistant to several members of the Florida Legislature. In 2002, became an administrative assistant to the Miami-Dade School Board chair and in 2005 was promoted to the Office of Governmental Affairs and Land Use Policy. In 2007 she became a legislative assistant to the county commission chair. From 2009 to 2011, she worked in the county Planning and Zoning Department before returning to the public school system as director for Intergovernmental Affairs, Grants Administration and Community Engagement and subsequently becoming its executive director. Previously, she served as a member of Community Council 14 (Redland) and as vice chair of a South Dade Municipal Advisory Committee.
A graduate of the Leadership Miami Program of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, she also served on a state Miami River Commission; Redland Zoning Appeals Board; Miami Gardens Excellence in Education Council Board of Directors, and several charitable organizations. Active in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary as Public Affairs Officer, she was Sen. Marco Rubio’s appointee to the Military Service Academy Nomination Board and was reappointed in 2015.