Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | January 25, 2022
José Dotres will be the next superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
The School Board voted 6-3 to appoint Dotres after a more than eight-hour meeting and interviewing the top three candidates Monday. Dotres will replace Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who is leaving Miami Feb. 3 to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“It truly is an honor,” Dotres told board members after the vote. “I get to come back to work with incredible professionals. My greatest desire is that we work closely together for the benefit of this entire school district.”
Board members Marta Pérez, Christi Fraga and Lubby Navarro voted for Jacob Oliva, the senior chancellor in the Florida Department of Education.
The third candidate was Rafaela Espinal, a longtime educator in New York City. She did not receive any votes from the board.
Dotres was viewed by many as the favored finalist, given his long history with the district and his relationships with board members. The nine-member board hires the superintendent.
The meeting began at 2 p.m. After about one hour of community input, where teachers, students and community organizations lamented the minimal amount of community engagement in the hiring process, each board member and its student adviser asked one question on behalf of various stakeholders, including the labor unions and the parent-teacher association.
Each member was then able to ask up to three additional questions.
Board member questions ranged from addressing the student achievement gap to building relationships within the district and with community stakeholders, to building career paths for students to school safety to addressing students’ mental health and the district’s decreasing enrollment. The questions reflect the litany of challenges the next leader will face.
DOTRES STRESSES MIAMI-DADE SCHOOLS HISTORY
Dotres, 59, stressed his existing relationships within the district and his ability to offer continuity from one administration to the next.
The primary reason why he chose to apply for the post, he said, was to “continue serving the district that welcomed me when I was 5 [and] taught me English as a second language.”
On day one, he said, he’s ready and able to address some of the challenges facing the district, such as recruiting and retention of teachers. The district has worked to “carefully grow our own, but that simply isn’t enough.”
Moreover, he said, the development of school leaders has “always been at the forefront of what I’ve done.”
In 1988, Dotres got his start with Miami-Dade Public Schools as a teacher and reading coach at Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Overtown and South Pointe Elementary in South Beach.
He moved on to become an assistant principal at M.A. Milam K-8 Center in Hialeah and later a principal at Hialeah Gardens Elementary.
By the mid-aughts, he was tapped to be the administrative director of leadership development for the district, administering a budget of $5 million. In 2009, he became the north regional center superintendent, overseeing all educational aspects for 91 schools, more than 91,000 students and nearly 300 principals and assistant principals.
For one year, in 2013, Dotres moved to Broward County Public Schools to be the chief academic officer, before returning to Miami in 2014 as the district’s chief of staff. In his final role in Miami, he served from 2014-2021 as the chief human capital officer, where he oversaw teacher and leader development, recruitment and labor relations.
Some board members expressed concern by Dotres’ enrollment in DROP, the deferred retirement option program, and his decision to continue living in Broward County. His enrollment in the DROP program is up in two years, he said.
Board members also said they wanted to include in his contract a stipulation that he live in Miami-Dade County.
HIGHLIGHTS HER DOMINICAN ROOTS
Espinal, 51, highlighted how her experience and expertise could help reduce the achievement gap among students. Achievement gaps seen in Miami-Dade are typical across the country, she said, “but I can fix it.”
Espinal is a nearly three-decade education veteran in New York City schools.
“It starts in early childhood education,” she said. “By the time children are 7, children show all their [errors] in math, science and literacy. Unfortunately, we don’t catch [the issues] early enough. I can teach teachers how to recognize those.”
The board throughout the superintendent search process has maintained its desire to appoint someone who understands Miami and the community.
Espinal, the only female and out-of-state candidate, emphasized her family connections to Miami and her Dominican roots.
And, she said, coming in as an outsider would be beneficial to the district. If hired, she said, she’d approach the job “with a fresh pair of eyes,” identify gaps and work with teams to come up with possible solutions.
FOCUS ON HIS MIAMI ROOTS
Oliva, 47, also focused on his connections to Miami. He is a product of Miami-Dade Public Schools and in his opening statement expressed his love for his time here and how his music, math and English teachers at Southwood Middle School and Killian Senior High were role models.
Oliva said, if chosen, he would do three things immediately: He’d schedule a retreat with the board to spend time with members to go over their priorities, needs and values; spend time with district staff to understand their work; and finally, he’d visit every school and hold town halls with the school community.
It’s critical “the next superintendent be visible and start building relationships with stakeholders.”
Oliva, who oversees the K-12 public schools in the state, also emphasized that, if hired, his allegiance would be to the district, not the state. “I would work for this board. Whatever directive this board gave me, I would work on its behalf.”
Vice Chair Steve Gallon III, however, expressed concern about Oliva’s position at the state education department when it moved to privatize the Jefferson County School District. In bids for a contract to manage the school district’s transition from private charter school company control back to independence, Oliva’s name appeared along with that of two other state education officials on a proposal from a private consulting company.
Those officials were forced to resign by Oliva was cleared of wrongdoing.
Gallon also critiqued Oliva’s lack of experience serving Black and Hispanic students as the superintendent of Flagler County Public Schools, a district with few Black and Hispanic students in northeast Florida.
For his part, Oliva said he played no role in the department’s decision regarding Jefferson County.
“What makes me uniquely qualified is I possess the knowledge of being a superintendent and of the legislative process,” Oliva said.
Miami Herald staff writer Linda Robertson contributed to this report.