Miami schools softly open and reconnect after pandemic

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By the end of the day, approximately 40,000 students had been transported via 778 bus routes across the school district, 225,000 meals had been served, more than 17,000 teachers were teaching in a classroom, and more than 133 specialists in mental health were in the schools.

For Jose Dotres, these were among a handful of things that fostered a “smooth” first day of school for Miami-Dade County Public Schools — his first as superintendent.

There were no “significant issues”, which reassured him that the year was starting “on the right foot”, he told reporters. “This is a year where we can inspire students, inspire our teachers and a year where we really need to reconnect and connect with each other. That’s what we’re going to focus on. »

READ MORE: Butterflies and tears, angry parents, high fives: Miami schools start first day of classes

Dotres’ remarks, which he delivered from Central West Transportation at the end of the school day, echoed comments he made earlier in the day at Hialeah Gardens High School, his first stop for the day. , and during the annual opening of schools. address Friday. The nation’s fourth-largest district, Miami-Dade Schools, had 329,575 students and 18,739 teachers, according to the Florida Department of Education’s fall 2021 enrollment count, and more than 400 schools.

The theme of the year, Dotres said recently from the stage at Miami Senior High School, was to “connect and inspire.”

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Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres speaks with students having breakfast in the cafeteria at Hialeah Gardens High School on Wednesday, the first day of the 2022-23 school year. Jose A. Iglesias [email protected]

READ MORE: Between politics and low pay, teachers are more strained than ever – and the numbers show it

Registration issues, security issues

The early morning at Miami Senior High, 2450 SW First St., however, presented challenges for some students and families.

Before school started at 7:20 a.m., about 100 students and parents waited in a line that snaked from the school’s historic courtyard to its auditorium, all looking for class schedules. Some parents were upset by the inconvenience, arguing that they had enrolled their child at the end of the previous school year. But Jackie Calzadilla, spokesperson for Miami-Dade Schools, said the problem was likely due to “new records that arrived between yesterday and today.”

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Students leave campus after the first day of school at Miami Senior High in Miami, Fla., Wednesday, August 17, 2022. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

At the end of the school day, the parents of a new pupil said their 14-year-old daughter, who had not been given a class timetable, should have one by Thursday. The parents, who did not want to be identified, recently moved to Miami from Cuba and said they registered their daughter a week ago.

Still, the girls’ mother said: ‘We are happy that this has been resolved quickly.

For Mayelen Gonzalez, parent of a freshman and sophomore at Hialeah Gardens High School, her main concern was school safety, despite the presence of two resource officers on campus.

Before the new year, Gonzalez had conversations with her children about safety and how to be aware of their surroundings, she said. But, she added, she wants the district to do more to make schools safer, such as considering implementing a system to check student backpacks at the entrance.

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Miami City Police Officer C. Gonzalez helps students leaving Miami Senior High cross the street at the end of the first day of school in Miami, Fla., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. Daniel A Varela [email protected]

At the afternoon press conference, Dotres spoke of the “myth of things” the district has done to keep campuses safe. Not only does every campus have at least one officer, he said, but every campus has the same officer every day so they can get to know the students and the community.

Additionally, he said, the district police department conducted four emergency drills with a large number of casualties to ensure all officers are able to respond to a school in the event of an emergency. . Police officers are also trained in mental health awareness, which can help support students who may show signs of potential threat.

Shortage of teachers, new state policies

On Wednesday, the district deployed 59 certified teachers to cover a class that did not have a teacher in place. Those people, Dotres said, could be program support specialists or people in the district certified in a field.

Still, about 260 teaching positions remain vacant, Dotres said. (Student attendance and enrollment figures were not yet available Wednesday afternoon.) Districts in Florida are grappling with teaching vacancies after a wave of resignations or retirements during the pandemic.

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Parents of kindergarten through fifth graders wait to be admitted to school early in the morning at Miami Gardens Elementary School in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Wednesday, August 17, 2022. Carl Just [email protected]

Carole Volel, a special education teacher at Miami Beach High, said she will be even more patient this year. She teaches students aged 14 to 22 and her curriculum focuses on life skills, studies as well as hygiene.

“I just want to give my students a fresh start in education after what we’ve been through for the past two years,” referring to remote learning during the pandemic, said Volel, who has been at Beach High for eight years. years, but one teacher for 25.

She hopes the school “can be a stress-free zone for students and for teachers,” but acknowledged new state laws and initiatives, including Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest proposal to encourage military veterans. , retired police officers and firefighters to become teachers to make up for the shortage of teachers, injured teachers.

“People say, ‘Anyone can be a teacher now’ and disrespect us because we went to college, we went to workshops and we have years of experience,” she said. . “It’s really disheartening, especially when you have thousands of dollars in student loans.”

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Dr. Orna Campbell, left, takes Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres for a quick tour of a few classrooms at Comstock Elementary, 2420 NW 18th Ave., in Allapatah on Wednesday. Dr. Campbell, the school principal, has dressed up as a referee because now that the school year has started, she’s back in the game. José A. Iglesias [email protected]

In the spring, DeSantis signed a series of new laws that limit what schools can teach about race, gender identity and certain aspects of history.

Teachers across the district have expressed concern about the new laws and their impact on their classrooms, with some adding academic freedom disclaimers to their programs.

New features, goals for 2022-23

Like last year, much of the focus this school year will be on unfinished learning and academic setbacks caused by the pandemic, Dotres said at the news conference.

READ MORE: ‘I forgot what normal is’ – how students deal with depression, anxiety, a wasted year

Students have made significant progress, he said, but “that doesn’t mean we are where we need to be”. (The 2021-22 school year district earned an A grade.) Students’ reading and math skills, in particular, will be a top priority, he said, and some students will need additional tutoring.

The new year will also feature an expanded role for the district’s parent academy and “communication with parents,” he said. Officials will work to provide more information to parents and increase the number of interactions, activities and engagements offered.

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Yunaisy Remedios takes photos of her daughter Angeline Remedios, 8, before the first day of class at the John I. Smith K-8 Center, Doral, Wednesday August 17, 2022. Alexia Fodere for the Miami Herald

In addition, the district will also invest in multiple sectors, such as vocational training, to prepare students for higher education or working life.

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Students and parents wait to cross Prairie Avenue to enter North Beach Elementary in Miami Beach on the first day of school, Aug. 17, 2022. Sydney Walsh [email protected]

For Alvaro Bermudez, however, Wednesday meant the start of a new cycle, a new year. The 16-year-old educator, who teaches music at Ronald W. Reagan Doral High School at 8600 NW 107th Ave., said he can’t wait to get back.

Bermudez, 48, said he can’t wait to see his students in grades 9 through 12 learn to play the guitar and perform on stage: “I couldn’t wait to come back. I look forward to fall and….and just the cycle of the year.

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Alvaro Bermudez, a music teacher at Ronald W. Reagan High School in Doral, said he can’t wait to get back to school. Wednesday, August 17, 2022 was the first day of classes for Miami-Dade Public Schools. Alexia Fodere for the Miami Herald

Miami Herald editors Grethel Aguila, Tess Riski, Jimena Tavel and Miami Herald editors Clara-Sophia Daly, Natalia Galicza and Alex Lugo contributed to this report.

This story was originally published August 17, 2022 7:13 p.m.

Sommer Brugal is the K-12 education reporter for the Miami Herald. Before heading to Miami, she covered three school districts on Florida’s Treasure Coast for TCPalm, part of the USA Today network.

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