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School Board

School board elections are happening all around America.  They’re important because they govern public school districts, aka the education of American children. There are 38 states holding school board elections this year. Florida is one of them.

Technically, these are primary elections but function as general elections. They only have a general election in Nov. if no candidate wins a majority.

We asked each of the candidates this questionnaire.

In Miami-Dade County, three districts are on the ballot. 

District 1
District 6
District 7

District 1

Wilbert “Tee” Holloway

Did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

Steve Gallon III

Did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

James Bush III

Did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

District 6

Modesto Abety

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 PTA’s 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.

If all students could have one superpower, what should it be?: All children should have the superpower of self love, self esteem, and self confidence.

Gus Machado

Did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

Pedro Mora

Did not respond to questionnaire by deadline. 

Maria Rojas

Did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

District 7

Lubby Navarro

Did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

Aster Mohamad

Occupation: Retired Educator from Miami-Dade Public Schools (M-DCPS)

Education: (B.A.) Elementary Education and (M.A.) Educational Administration. In addition I am endorsed to teach gifted, English Language Learners (ELL) and Special Education course for recertification until 2020.

Relevant Experience: As a candidate for School Board, District 7, I have the most experience working with students, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials in our district for over thirty years. As a former PTA president and Educational Excellence School Advisory Committee (EESAC) chairwoman and member, I am familiar with district policies, procedures, and protocols. I have represented the local and regional schools on the district advisory committee for several years. Having lived and taught in the most diverse community in the district I am running, I understand the needs of our various constituents.

Why are you running for the School Board of Miami-Dade County?: I am running for Miami-Dade School Board District 7 seat because as a classroom teacher for 17 years and district parent-educator for five years, I’ve advocated for students, parents, teachers and the community for over 30 years. Now I want to continue to dedicate my unique perspective as a teacher and district parent-educator by serving as a school board member to improve the academic achievement of ALL students.

Specifically, what are your experiences attending and working within K-12 schools?: I attended elementary and high school in my home country, Ethiopia. However, my three children attended Miami Dade Public Schools. Currently my two grandchildren are attending public schools in District 7.

I have experience working with students, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials in our district for over thirty years. As a former PTA president and Educational Excellence School Advisory Committee (EESAC) chairwoman and member, I am familiar with district policies, procedures, and protocols. I have represented the local and region schools on the district advisory committee for several years. Having lived and taught in the most diverse community in the district I am running, I understand the needs of our various constituents.

1989-2006 Teacher, M-DCPS, Kendale Lakes Elementary School, Teaching Enrichment Activities to Minorities, (TEAM) Grades 1 – 4, Taught ESOL, Primary Grades Department Chairperson, African American History Month Co-Chair, Conducted TEAM staff development for teachers.

1987-1989 Substitute Teacher, M-DCPS, Kendale Lakes Elementary School, All Grade Levels

1976-1978 Part-Time Instructor and Assistant, M-DCPS, Miami Skill Center, Compensatory Education Training Act Program, Taught individualized basic skills to adult students seeking high school completion and employable in a workforce. Here students were able to master four months’ worth of mathematic and reading skills in one month.

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?: The most important issue impacting education within District 7 is the growing number of charter schools in Kendall. The tax payers’ money goes toward the building of charter schools and paying for the administration who are part of the management company. However, charter schools hand pick their students instead of accepting ALL students regardless of their abilities. Therefore, I propose that charter schools accept ALL students if they receive tax dollars and should be transparent in all their business dealings.

What would be your top priorities within the first 3 months, if elected? 6 months? 12 months?: In my first three months, I want to expand and improve parental education so that parents are fully informed about their children’s educational programs and how to navigate the school system.
In my first six months, I want to advocate for modifying students’ assessments to avoid another mistake of administering tests to students before they are field tested properly in the state of Florida (NOT another state).
In my first twelve months, I want to make sure that students with disabilities and their families receive adequate programs and information, even if it requires partnering with private agencies.

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 school board of Miami Dade County Public Schools needs to partner with the Miami-Dade Police Department to strengthen the implementation of the DARE program.

There should be communications between law enforcement and the community through regular town hall meetings several times a year. These town hall meetings should take place where school communities are suffering from repeated crime. Families should be part of the conversation and adapt the Homeland Security model; “See something, Say something.” Make families partners in crime prevention. In addition, I suggest that the police explorers work alongside the community in collaboration with Miami-Dade Public Schools Police and Miami-Dade Police Department.

Citizens’ participation on the local police department’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) is extremely beneficial. I am the past chair, vice-chair and member of the local police department since 1987. I have gained tremendous insight in how citizens can assist the police department.

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?: First, we need to welcome the families into our schools. Many families from other countries believe that it is the sole responsibility of the school, administrators, teachers and support staff to educate their children. Gradually we want the families to become partners in their children’s education by holding coffee and conversation events. Share with them the importance of parent/family involvement in their children’s education. Also share the programs and services available to their children. Encourage teachers to participate in this conversation as much as their contracts allows.

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?: First, all parents love and care for their children regardless of their educational and socio-economic background. I worked with families of low-performing schools when I worked at the district office for six years. My primary assignment was to provide workshops on various programs, so that parents/families can help their children succeed in school. These workshops need to be offered on different days of the week, as well as evenings and weekends. Weekend workshops were successful because students will have their remedial classes while families learn how they can support their children. I also suggest that the most qualified teachers teach the lowest performing students. The students should be provided with the most advanced equipment and materials. Most of all, families need to know the different programs and services available to their children, as well as when these programs are offered.

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?: Unfortunately, unlike other industrialized nations, especially those that are the highest achieving, the United States lacks a systematic approach to recruiting, preparing, retaining teachers. Therefore, we need to improve in the following areas:

High quality graduate-level teacher education, at government expense, including a year of practice teaching in a clinical school connected to the university. Like in the medical field, provide a stipend to teachers who will teach in the most needed schools.
Mentoring for all beginners in their first year of teaching from expert teachers coupled with other supports like a reduced teaching load and shared planning. Equitable salaries often with additional stipends for hard-to-staff locations which are competitive with other professionals, such as engineering.
Ongoing professional learning embedded in 10 or more hours a week of planning and professional development time.

How can we foster a productive relationship between public and charter schools, and one that leads to improved educational opportunities for all students?: Public money funds charter schools. Therefore, charter schools should enroll all students, not the selected few. Charter schools need to be accountable to the same standards as public schools, the same qualification for teachers and administrations, and provide teachers with access to the Florida Retirement System.

How should parents, families, and other community members be involved in how schools are run, including decision around funding?: Parents are their children’s first teachers, so are the families. Right at the start of the school year, hold town hall meeting at various locations easily accessible to the families. Provide parents/families with information on how to navigate the Miami Dade County Public School system and identify the programs they need for their children in a timely manner. In addition, share with the families how they can get involved in their children’s schools. Share with the families the district’s goals and mission. Survey families and the business community on ways they can support the neighborhood schools. The business community can organize and sponsor family fun days for the school community two or three times a year. It takes the whole community to raise a child.

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?: My priority as a school board member is to collaborate with my colleagues so that the adequate counselors, psychologist and social workers are available at each school to help students and families deal with everyday academic, social and emotional problems. Many students come from broken families and do not need sworn police officers to fight back. The idea of having law enforcement on the school ground brings resentment and worsens the school climate. I recommend increasing the number of counselors and other support professionals to create a safe school climate and a quality of life for the school community.

If all students could have one superpower, what should it be?: If all students could have one superpower, it would be the power of doing their homework automatically even if they forgot their homework at school and check whether they are correct and fix them.