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2016 General Election, Miami-Dade County School Board: District 6

No candidate clinched a majority in the District 6 school board race on Aug. 30. These are the two candidates who made it to the runoff.

Modesto “Mo” Abety
Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas

Modesto “Mo” Abety
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Occupation:

Retired, former president/CEO of The Children’s Trust

Education:

(M.P.A) Bernard M. Baruch College

Relevant Experience:

Former President/CEO of The Children’s Trust, 40 years of public service working with children and families as a community organizer, social worker, citizen participation and parental involvement specialist and administrator.

Why are you running for the School Board of Miami-Dade County?

My life’s work has been to ensure our children have the resources to succeed. As the former President and CEO of The Children’s Trust, I have worked hard to earn the trust of parents, advocates and community leaders for my dedication to the wellbeing, safety, health and education of our children. I am a strong believer in building parental and community responsibility for children. I am ready to take my four decades of experience both on The Children’s Trust and in public service to the School Board so our children have an advocate fighting for them, for their parents, for their teachers and together for a high quality public education. This is the right challenge for me at the right time. It allows me to continue my advocacy for children and families and to advocate for teachers: a profession I’ve long admired and respected.

Specifically, what are your experiences attending and working within K12 schools?

I attended public schools in District 6, including elementary, Jr. High and graduated from Miami Senior High School, and I have worked closely with schools and parents for decades as the former President & CEO of The Children’s Trust. I have received an Honorary Lifetime Membership Award to The Florida Parent Teacher’s Association (FLPTA) for my “outstanding and meritorious service” to Florida’s children and families.

What have you identified as the most important issue impacting education within your respective District? How do you hope to address this issue if elected to the Board?

Lack of Funding: I will work with students, teachers and parents alike to ensure that Miami-Dade’s accountability system works for all our children and for all taxpayers. Our Miami-Dade Delegation to the Florida Legislature also needs to be held accountable for ensuring that we get our fair share of the State’s education dollars. Resources are particularly needed to lift low performing schools and create equity. As a grandfather, I know that giving our children the best education system means a brighter future for them and our community.

What would be your top priorities within the first 3 months, if elected? 6 months? 12 months?

3 months: Meet with all the principals of all 15 elementary schools, 7 middle schools, 5 K-8 centers and 8 senior high schools in the district. I will identify key issues and concerns for actions. I would do the same with principals of all charter schools in the district.

6 months: Meet with all the PTAs in the district. I would continue to identify key issues and concerns where there are no PTA’s or they are inactive, I will provide technical assistance and support to begin and strengthen these, and develop plans of action to address key issues and concerns.

12 months: Work the plan! Continuously monitor progress.

Community violence has significantly impacted several communities within Miami-Dade, and several schools within Districts 1, 2, and 9 have been impacted the most. What role does the School Board play in ensuring students are safe?

The safety of our students is of utmost importance. While we must ensure student and staff safety, we must also combat the root causes of violence in our community. Zero tolerance policies have allowed some of our neighborhoods to become a pipeline from cradle to prison. Way too many of our kids are caught up at an earlier and younger age in the juvenile justice system. They graduate to state prisons where opportunities for rehabilitation and education are very poor. So, we are willing to spend $50,000 a year to incarcerate young offenders, but in Florida we are not willing to invest in education, mental health, substance abuse prevention, and early intervention and treatment programs that can disrupt that pipeline and create a pathway from cradle to career for all of our students. Florida is not a poor state, we should not allow the state legislature to treat our children poorly.

With an influx of migrant students to our schools, what is your plan of support for teachers and students in order for a smooth transition?

MDCPS cannot bear the additional expenditures of accepting thousands of new refugees and immigrants. These costs are clearly a federal responsibility and we must unify to ensure that Congress acts accordingly. Our South Florida schools have an extremely diverse student body. We must ensure that our schools, teachers, and parents are prepared to guarantee the success of these students, regardless of language and cultural barriers. We need more resources for incoming parents, such as workshops, to assess the child’s adjustment and provide a smoother transition. We must also empower teachers to have flexibility in how they manage their classrooms so that they can give more attention to those students that need extra help.

MDCPS has been nationally acclaimed as a successful district, but also houses 25 of the state’s lowest performing elementary schools. What will you do about improving equity for all students who learn in the district, and not just excellence for a select few?

In order to ensure success for all and not just a select few, I support my “A+ Approach”: Achievement: focusing resources on student achievement, setting high standards, a rigorous curriculum, and recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. It’s all about giving teachers the tools they need to do what they do best- teach. Accountability: having strong accountability measures is paramount to a strong school system, and Ability: through growing ability and access to a strong education system, children of all abilities can have the tools they need to live up to their greatest potential. Low performing schools need complete turnarounds. This means that only the proven and best principals shall be recruited for these schools. These principals
should have the freedom to hire all new teachers and staff. Principals and teachers working with these schools must be paid incentives to teach and lead at these schools. There must be a
commitment to teaching and learning and to creating a safe and nurturing environment where this happens.

What can you do to recruit, retain, and develop a strong, professional teaching force? What opportunities can be created for teachers to take on leadership roles without having to leave the classroom?

I firmly believe that quality education is dependent on a strong teacher. I will be an advocate for providing our teachers with suitable pay and benefits, and a caring, nurturing, respectful environment with academic freedom so that we can recruit and retain the best talent in Miami-Dade County. The quality of our education should never be determined by the zip code the child resides in.

How can we foster a productive relationship between public and charter schools, and one that leads to improved educational opportunities for all students?

Education, sadly, has become a big business in the State of Florida. Public education dollars are going to for-profit charter schools, and these funds are too often misused. We need to fully fund our public schools, but if tax dollars will be going to charter schools, then these schools must be held to the same standards as our public schools, in order to ensure equal opportunities and quality in our schools. The fact that vouchers and charters have become so popular is a clear signal that parents are not happy with their traditional public school. We must turn this around as stated in the response to the question above on turning around low performing schools.

How should parents, families, and other community members be involved in how schools are run, including decision around funding?

As a school board member, I will work with students, teachers and parents alike to ensure that Miami- Dade’s accountability system works for all our children and for all taxpayers. I encourage parents, families, and members of the community to get involved in their local schools and make their voices heard through PTA and community advisory boards. I will communicate constantly, be accessible and listen!

According to recent data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), more than 1.6 million students across the country attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer, but not a school counselor. How can the school board influence the ways our youth are exposed to and interact with law enforcement? What can be done to ensure our priorities, resources, and partnerships are squarely focused on nurturing the growth and greatness of our youth?

The school board should encourage healthy respectful relationships between students and law enforcement, so that students feel that the officers are there to protect them, not to discipline them. I believe that school safety workshops or assemblies would be helpful in building these positive relationships. Unfortunately, zero tolerance policies have damaged this relationship by creating a school-to-prison pipeline. I believe in developing alternative discipline models such as restorative justice models that allows students to learn from the consequences of their actions, while continuing their education, rather than imprisoning them. We must also form more collaborative relations with the community and neighborhood social services agencies in the areas where these children and their families reside.

Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas

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Did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.