Standing on the stage at Miami Senior High School, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres declared the theme for the upcoming school year: Connect and inspire.
“Isn’t that what we are all here to do? Isn’t that the goal of education?” he asked the crowd of district officials, School Board members and educators. “If we are to truly be successful, our students will be inspired to explore, to create, to invent...they will be inspired to achieve their full potential.”
“At the core of our collective mission is to create connections and inspire greatness in every single child,” said Dotres, a graduate of Miami High.
The message came during the annual opening of schools address in which Dotres and other district leaders, including School Board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman, highlighted the accomplishments of the district and foreshadowed what could come in the next year.
The first day of classes is Aug. 17.
At various times throughout the event, which featured the district’s all-star student orchestra and Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School’s marching band, Dotres acknowledged and recognized the work and dedication of principals, vice principals and teachers, and highlighted the relationships and partnerships the district has throughout the community.
The district’s A-rating, top-10 statewide ranking and its “successful” summer programs were among the achievements officials touted. Summer 305, which provided in-person classes at more than 150 schools for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, was designed with the “whole child in mind,” Dotres said.
Miami-Dade, he said, ranks eighth among Florida’s 67 county-wide school districts — the ranking factors in variables such as graduation rates and school grades — and was just one of 14 districts to receive an A-rating. It was the third year in a row the district earned the rating when excluding the previous two years during the pandemic when it did not receive grades.
Still, “there is a lot of work that still needs to be done,” especially regarding proficiency rates in reading and mathematics and the achievement gap, Dotres told reporters after the event.
Priorities for 2022-23
Throughout the 2021-22 school year, officials, including Dotres and his predecessor Alberto Carvalho, talked repeatedly about the academic disruptions caused by the pandemic and the unfinished learning students experienced as a result.
Carvalho announced in December he would leave the district after more than a decade to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District. The School Board appointed Dotres in January, and he took over in February.
Last summer and throughout the year, the district tackled the academic achievement gaps that were exacerbated because of the pandemic by hiring additional reading and math coaches to target schools with highest need, launched a homework help initiative called Pop N’ Prep, expanded school tutoring options and added more people to monitor and address student attendance.
The focus of those efforts, Dotres said, will continue into the new school year. Remediation for learning losses will be addressed through additional tutoring, after-school interventions and focusing on specific grade-level acceleration, he added.
A major priority will be to “help all students accelerate learning” through continuous instruction, he said. Another focus will be attending to students’ mental health.
“No longer can we just talk about academics and leave mental health aside,” he said. “Moving forward, we know those two will be hand and hand.”
Testing methods will also be different this year, Dotres told reporters.
The 2021-22 year marked the end of the Florida Standard Assessments. Beginning this year, districts across Florida will implement a more frequent progress monitoring assessment system and implement the state’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking standards, also referred to as the B.E.S.T standards.
“We will continue to focus on accelerated learning,” he said, meaning ensuring students catch up to any learning that may have been lost or slowed during the pandemic.
When it comes to the issue of recruitment and retention of teachers, Dotres said the issue is nothing new. But, there are areas that are harder to fill than others, such as high-level mathematics and special needs teachers.
Nevertheless, officials are actively working to retain staff by providing coaching and professional development to support veteran and new teachers, too.
According to officials, the district will welcome about 400 new educators for new teacher orientation.