Dean of Students at Jose de Diego Middle School
former U.S. history teacher at Miami Central Senior High School
This post is part of our voter guide for the Aug. 28 local and primary elections. Head to the main landing page for a guide to the key races and decisions being made this election.
District 2 covers much of the urban core of Miami-Dade County, stretching from the Miami River in the south to 135th Street at its northern boundary, stretching west to the eastern boundary of Hialeah. It includes areas like Downtown, Allapattah, Liberty City, and Miami Shores.
This interview has been lightly edited to meet word count requirements. Alfred’s opponent is Dorothy Bendross-Mindigall.
Why are you running for school board?
I came to Miami after graduating from Yale University to continue the tradition that my own mother started when I was a child: to fight tirelessly on behalf of our students’ right to a quality education. I fought for that right as a teacher [initially as a corps member of Teach for America] at Miami Central Senior High School, and I continue to fight for that right as a Dean of Students at Jose de Diego Middle School.
My decision to run for School Board has been inspired by the stories of former students who have not felt prepared for life after M-DCPS and by teachers and staff members who feel underpaid and under supported. It has been inspired by my own story as a student who was lucky enough to have a parent who knew how to navigate the public education system to make sure he had a quality education. Over 70 percent of students in District 2’s traditional, neighborhood high schools are not proficient in reading or math. When education continues to be the great equalizer in our society, we cannot leave our kids’ access to it up to luck.
What education experience do have? Have you worked in a classroom?
As a political science major at Yale University, I specifically studied and wrote my thesis on education policy. After graduating from Yale, I became a teacher in Miami and taught U.S. History and reading at Miami Central Senior High School. After teaching at Miami Central, I transitioned to Jose de Diego Middle School, where I have served, and currently serve, as one of our two deans of students.
Where do you stand on school choice, aka giving students a choice between mainstream public schools and other specialty schools, most often charter schools?
I am ultimately a proponent and champion of public schools. I do not believe, however, that the debate on school choice has to be a zero-sum game. In regions throughout our country there are high-quality, high-performing, not for profit charter schools that are doing a great job adding to the educational landscape, respecting the rights of teachers, and paying teachers and staff high wages. I recognize, however, that Miami has had a checkered history with for-profit charters that open up to claim money from our public schools, but neglect their duties to provide students with a quality education.
Ultimately, I believe that it is our duty to provide our parents and students with a wide range of education options to fit their needs. That means expanding alternative education options, vocational programs, magnet programs, and not-for-profit, high performing charter schools so that parents and students can pick the school that fits them best. I do not believe, however, in sustaining for-profit schools that siphon funds from our schools, and mistreat teachers and staff. We must have a clear standard for school choice that aligns to our values as a district that puts students, parents, and staff first.
How do you plan to recruit and retain high-quality teachers?
The recently approved resolution for a referendum for teacher salaries is the first step in the right direction. I believe that we must prioritize teacher salaries so that high-quality teachers feel like they can raise a family in Miami-Dade. I also plan to prioritize respecting the professionalism of our teachers, revamping professional development, and equipping them with the tools and environments needed to be successful.
As a teacher I remember feeling left on an island when tasked with a roster of over 225 students, well over the recommended number of students a high school teacher should be teaching, and not receiving any support to meet that task. I also remember having my own professional judgment trumped by curriculum that asked me to teach to a test, instead of also preparing my students with the skills they will need to compete after they graduate high school. As a dean, I’ve learned that when you engage teachers as professional partners and provide them with the resources to be successful they can truly work magic. But when we stunt their growth, shun their opinions, and disrespect them they will be left with a void that no amount of money can fill.
Where do you stand on arming teachers and other “hardening” initiatives like metal detectors and armed security officers?
I am firmly against arming teachers, and the usage of unsworn law enforcement officers like armed security officers. I also approach other “hardening” initiatives like metal detectors and the use of law enforcement officers with great caution. Since Tallahassee will not enact the common-sense gun control laws that will make our communities safer, we must take steps to ensure our students are safe.
However, we must also make sure that we are not disrupting the learning environments and humanity of our students. That starts with making sure that all law enforcement officials have the training and development needed for them to differentiate threats to school safety from discipline issues that the school should be handling. We also must ensure that we are not criminalizing the behavior of students that would normally be considered behavior that the school addresses.
Where do the candidates stand on expanded mental health assistance for students?
I believe that quality mental health assistance is a topic that is severely under addressed in our schools. In some of our District 2 schools we have ratios of 1 guidance counselor to 450 or even 800 students. Meanwhile, helping parents access additional mental health support can be an opaque process.
If we are to tend to the developmental needs of our students, and if we really want to create a safe environment for them, we must invest further in quality mental health assistance. That means investing in guidance counselors and school psychologists so that we can reduce ratios and caseloads to more meaningful numbers. We must also ensure that these professionals are being allowed to carry out the work of tending to students’ mental health needs instead of other bureaucratic school processes.
What is your track record on trying to bring equal education opportunities to all students, regardless of zip code, income level, or race? What is your plan for achieving that?
The inequities in education are what brought me to the field. I was fortunate to have parents who were educators. They made sure I did not fall through the cracks of the system, such as when I was in elementary school and misplaced in a special education class. Had my mother not been able to identify the level of work I was bringing home, and advocate on my behalf, I would never have been properly tested and placed in the advanced, gifted program.
As an educator, I have seen how easy it is for students to fall through the cracks. I have spent summers working to provide quality summer learning opportunities so that students can avoid the “summer slide” often associated with students who don’t have access to educational opportunities during the summer. I have also worked and volunteered throughout summers and school years to train teachers in innovative practices that help them raise the bar of what’s offered to students in their classrooms. Lastly, I have worked to mentor students and provide them with the soft skills needed to supplement academic growth. That has led to a number of students of mine having access to college acceptances and scholarships.
If you had additional money for education, where would you invest it?
I would invest it in people. That means investing in teachers, guidance counselors, other mental health professionals, paraprofessionals, custodians, other school staff, and development programs for parents and community members. Technology, materials, and other inanimate items are necessary investments for education.
However, nothing trumps enveloping our students in a well-trained, well-supported, and well-intentioned community. While clichés can be cheesy, some are too true to ignore. The adage that it takes a village to raise a child is true. We must invest in our children’s village.