Friday the 13th was quite a nightmare for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. It is a day that will be marked by the foresight of our school system to shut down in order to protect our children and our community from the looming pandemic. It was a risky move, because until that point, governmental agencies, including the Florida Department of Education, had issued a memo stating that schools should remain open despite the imminent alarm. Nevertheless, Superintendent Carvalho and our School Board lead the way in which we take care and protect our community. A move that was not favorable to many, as we knew the kind of disruption it would cause in everyone’s lives.
M-DCPS went into crises mode as the district prepared an entire workforce and 350,000+ children on ways of staying academically connected and introducing new norms. Our schools launched distance learning to help us adapt to the physical separation of teachers while still maintaining instruction for children. And although the transition was uncomfortable, the jolt made us practice social distancing which will ultimately save lives.
Their quick thinking resulted in our urban area not exploding in new cases as we are now seeing in New York. The delayed reaction of keeping schools opened just one week longer in New York has unfortunately contributed to them being the epicenter in our country. Leadership that thinks swiftly and reacts with courage for the greater good is what our community needs more of.
This pandemic has also caused us to see the world through a microscopic lens in more ways than one. It has made us value our family and the daily freedoms we miss. But it has also made us understand the role of politics. We know that we need astute leadership, and that politics impact every angle of our daily lives.
This year will bring major changes to our school board as there are three open seats. We need smart leadership that puts our community first and works effectively with all stakeholders to lead the way.
We need judicious frontrunners. That is why United Teachers of Dade supports Dr. Mara Zapata for district 5. Dr. Zapata believes in community involvement and public service. She is past Chair of the Miami Dade County Commission for Women, and currently serves as Councilwoman for the City of Miami Springs. However, what is most telling about her character is the amount of commitment that she has had to M-DCPS. Not only is she a product of our public schools, but she also devoted her entire career to education when she began teaching locally at Springview Elementary.
Dr. Mara Zapata has dedicated her professional life to supporting teachers and students. She earned her Ph.D. from Florida State University in Science Education and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Florida International University. She currently serves as Associate Director of the FIU Teach program in the STEM Transformation Institute and previously worked as collegewide Chairperson of K-12 Teacher Education Programs in the School of Education at Miami Dade College.
Our school district needs Dr. Zapata as we continue to lead the way. We lead with academic achievements in the classroom and the way in which we react when emergencies are approaching. We need the courage of Dr. Mara Zapata to keep our educational system strong, and to help us make our community better.
Leaders are often remembered by the way in which they handle crisis. We cannot leave that in the hands of inexperience or in those that will not support a visionary school district that is willing to take calculated risks for the greater good. Politics matter, as is so plainly seen today.
Karla Hernandez-Mats is a teacher, parent, and President of United Teachers of Dade, the largest teachers’ union in southeastern United States. She is a board member for the Children’s Trust, Florida AFL-CIO, and chairs the Women’s Rights Committee for the American Federation of Teachers.