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Carvalho Touts Top Students, Says Struggling Kids 'Fuel' Him In Back-To-School Speech

Jessica Bakeman
Administrators and teachers gathered at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami on Tuesday for an annual address from Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

In an annual back-to-school address, the leader of Miami-Dade County Public Schools highlighted the district's star teachers and students.

Like Lois Kirns, an 80-year-old physical education teacher at New World School of the Arts, who has been in the classroom for more than a half century. And Ethan Levy, an budding scientist and student at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.

"Ethan has developed an innovative suturing method to be used in coronary artery bypass graft surgery," Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said during the Tuesday morning speech at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami. He added: "Talk about an overachiever."

But it's the underachieving students who weigh most on Carvalho's mind, he said.

"Those students who somehow get lost along the way. Those students who are homeless and hungry, who are struggling through trauma, who face learning challenges or physical challenges, who feel they have no one to turn to, who fear immigration, deportation," Carvalho said. "They keep me up at night."

Carvalho has held his position for more than a decade and recently declined a big promotion — an offer to be chief of New York City's public schools — in a dramatic affair on live television. During Tuesday's speech, he listed the district's academic strides under his leadership, including students' notable performance on national standardized tests and schools' second year without failing grades.

The 16 percent of students in the district's traditional public schools who don't graduate "fuel" him to strive for more, Carvalho told teachers and administrators who gathered for Tuesday's event.

"We must find ways to reach them, to capture their attention and their interest, to capture their needs and their desires so they will want to stay in school," Carvalho said.

He wore a wireless headset microphone for the 45-minute address, roaming freely across the stage in front of a line of fake palm trees and a huge screen. Slides that corresponded to his talking points flashed behind him as he spoke.

At one point, Carvalho congratulated the student survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in neighboring Broward County, for their bravery. He said educators were partially responsible for how effective the students were in leading a national movement for change after the tragedy at their school.

And Carvalho addressed perhaps the biggest issue looming over schools in South Florida and around the country as the a new academic year begins: security.

"The truth is, despite tragedies like those in Parkland and Sandy Hook, students are safer in our schools than nearly anywhere else," Carvalho said.

"But still … this year, we will open school with a police officer present at every schoolhouse door," he continued, again pledging that the district will be fully compliant with a new state law requiring the extra security, "thanks to an unprecedented level of partnership with county and municipal law enforcement agencies."

Monday is the first day of school in Miami-Dade.