In education, innovation is about ensuring that today’s students emerge from the educational process with a critical skill set that empowers them to work in diverse teams, enables them to reason through complex issues, and imparts upon them the emotional resiliency to enter a reality that is changing faster than ever before—one that will continue
For us here in Miami, innovation in education takes the form of rich, powerful, explosive choice. Education becomes personalized to each student and it is adapted to each student. Miami-Dade County Public Schools offer 1,000 choice options for students—anything from fine and performing arts to robotics to STEM programs and cybersecurity, AI, and more. These choices exist alongside liberal arts and dual-language programs, too.
I am an American by choice, not by chance. And so in the immigrant community like mine, it is my rule to be an empowerer of those who will arrive after me, whether they were born here, brought here, or immigrated here. And the way to do that in a community with vastly diverse demographics and a significant level of poverty is to really decode the means by which you reach every learner.
We are the fourth largest school district in the country, and through the power of choice, we have still managed to become a one-size-fits-none; each child has the opportunity to seek the program that most excites them. Two-thirds of our students are exercising that choice, and it has required a huge investment in adaptive technology. We seek a one-to-one digital device to student ratio and to place advanced digital content in the hands of every single student. Coupled with wifi in every single environment, and over 13,000 classrooms with interactive, next-generation Blackboards—we’re giving our students porous connectivity between school and home.
Relationships and partnerships with communities are vital to building a school environment like this. We’ve done great collaborative work with boards and with every stakeholder in the area. When we didn’t have enough money to deliver on our promises to our students, we went to our community and put something on the ballot—and they’ve rewarded us by agreeing to higher taxation because they believe in the value of the education we’re providing. M-DCPS has proven that when you line up your resources, develop your plans, execute them with high fidelity, and put your job on the line—if that is required in terms of achieving those goals—then the community will reward you for living up to the task that you had
M-DCPS proves the power of determination. When I became superintendent 11 years ago, there were dozens of low-performing schools in our district. Graduation rates were at 56% and only about 30% of students were enrolled in our choice programs. Today it’s close to 70% and the graduation rate approaches 90%. We are, two years in a row, rated by the State of Florida at the highest level as an A district. For three years, there have been no failing schools in Miami-Dade; 99% are rated A, B, or C. We are the number one district in the country for 4th-grade reading and for college-level preparation. We are second in the country for mathematics.
Pushing for reform and innovation in education is not easy. There are many communities to consider—parents, taxpayers, businesses, the political community—and whether through apathy or resistance, they can make change more difficult. What is comfortable for adults is not always best for children. But I have found that the best way to remove the obstacles to your goals is to prove your worthiness to the community. Deliver results and those will translate into support for the next step of the reform you’re working for.