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Miami-Dade's 2012 Playbook for the New School Year

Alberto Carvalho's new line of products for the new school year include increased school choice, healthier food, and an emphasis on technology.
Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho (above) has rolled out new initiatives for the new school year.

In August, as the back-to-school clothing and supplies were hitting the stores, Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools launched its own new "product line of services" to its student clientele, including additional magnet schools, a conservatory for the arts, salad bars, and new technology and online digital tools for students. This "ritual of reinvention" is a signature program of Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, as he's unveiled similar plans each year since joining the district in fall 2008.

"It's important for effective school leaders to reinvent themselves," said Carvalho. "There needs to be competition in the public school environment. We need to develop innovative services for students and continue to tailor to their individual needs."

The district is continuing to support school choice by rolling out 18 new magnet schools, including two centers for autistic children, an arts conservatory and three technology-driven academies. Currently, 41 percent of the district's students attend nontraditional schools. In addition to school choice, wellness and technology are also cornerstones of Carvalho's plan. New salad bars will be opening in each high school, a children's wellness center, and additional intramural sports. Technology is getting a boost as well, with a new online personalized learning tool, Links to Learning 2.0, for students, as a supplemental resource after school. A new program, dubbed "e-Campus," will provide online instructional materials to teachers.

Creating innovation in an economic recession has not been easy, says Carvalho, although he believes money woes cannot stifle progress. "I never benefited from an era of largess," he says, alluding to the fact that when he became superintendent the district had less than $4 million in reserves. "Rather than succumbing to economic woes, we're forced to be innovative and efficient," he adds. Some savings that have been put toward new projects came from closing six low-performing schools, reducing administrative spending and redesigning the district's health insurance plan.

New partnerships with the community and private sector also made some projects possible. Celebrity chefs Michelle Berstein and Michael Schwartz will continue to work with the district judging the best cafeterias. Norman Braman, a Miami-based car dealer, will allow students to enroll in automotive training centers, and former NASA scientists have come to the district to teach advanced science courses.

"Hiring the NASA scientists was an initiative out of opportunity," says Carvalho, noting that nearly one-third of NASA was laid off last month. Seizing the moment, the district contacted NASA to recruit scientists with high-level science skills to teach advanced STE M courses, as many districts struggle to fill those positions. "We're relying on the community and private sector to reinvent our schools."