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.