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Miami-Dade School Board narrows down superintendent search to three candidates

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho
Sebastian Ballestas
/
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade County's school board is looking to replace former Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, pictured above.

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools Board has narrowed its search for the next superintendent to three potential candidates, from an original pool of 16 applicants. At a special meeting Tuesday, MDCPS board members announced their top three choices for the next leader of the nation’s fourth largest school district.

Up for debate at Tuesday’s meeting was which applicants would make the initial cut, as well as how and whether the public would be allowed to provide further input on the board’s chosen candidates. In at times tense exchanges, board members defended their search process, which critics have said is unnecessarily rushed and breeding distrust.

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Marika Lynch, a parent in the district and a communications professional, told the board it’s not too late to change course and extend the search process.

“It has bred suspicion in the community. That this person will come in under a big cloud of mistrust. And that's not something that I would want on any employee in any position,” Lynch said. “Let’s appoint an interim director to steer this ship until we can do a national search where we can find the best candidates that will lead our schools.”

Instead, board members plowed ahead, choosing three top candidates among the seven that met their criteria, according to school board attorney Walter Harvey.

Dr. Jose L. Dotres is a familiar face in the district, having worked his way up through Miami-Dade public schools as a teacher, principal and regional superintendent, before becoming the district’s chief of staff and chief human capital officer. He left Miami-Dade in April of 2021 to become deputy superintendent of Collier County's school system.

Dr. Rafaela Espinal currently serves as an assistant superintendent within the New York City Department of Education. She has served there as a teacher, librarian, principal, and district superintendent, with time spent in schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx and East Brunswick, NJ.

Jacob Oliva is a senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, serving in a leadership role under Commissioner Richard Corcoran. A product of Miami-Dade public schools, Oliva has also served as a teacher, dean of students and principal before becoming superintendent of Flagler County Public Schools.

The board is moving through an expedited timeline, opting against conducting a national search. This decision has faced objections from multiple community groups, including The League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade and the Urban League of Greater Miami.

Board members conceded that they’re feeling the pressure to find a replacement for Alberto Carvalho, who has held the position for 14 years, overseeing the district’s 334,000 students and 41,000 staff across almost 400 schools.

Carvalho’s last day in Miami is scheduled for Feb. 3, though he may extend it to Feb 14. He’ll take the helm as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District in March.

At the special meeting, board members defended their approach to find his replacement, pushing back against concerns that the search for a new superintendent (which often takes months) is being cut short.

Board member Christi Fraga said the seven-day application period wasn’t enough time for even some qualified employees within the district to make the major life decision of applying for the top job.

The board has also faced criticism for not appointing an interim superintendent to allow for a longer transition and a lengthier recruitment period, as Broward County is doing in its search for a new superintendent. The Broward school board will hold a special meeting on the matter next week.

Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman announced Tuesday she offered the interim job to deputy superintendent Jaime Torrens, even discussing a salary with him, but he ultimately turned down the post.

The board also rebuffed assertions that the search process was a ‘done deal’ with a preordained result.

“The silver lining in these five hours sitting here,” Hantman said towards the end of the meeting, “maybe will dispel the notion that this was a done deal.”

Vice Chair Steve Gallon tried to wrap up the search on Tuesday, after a majority of the board voted to move ahead with public interviews for the finalists. Instead, he proposed that the board immediately appoint Dotres to be the next superintendent. This would have sidestepped any further interviews or public input, which Gallon said would provide nothing of value.

“Is there anything that's going to come out of that? How a person speaks to questions and issues in public? Is that going to change your dynamics in terms of how you feel about that person's capacity to be the superintendent?” Gallon said. “For me it's not.”

Hantman also said public interviews with the candidates aren't needed.

“It should not be in a public setting,” Hantman said. “It should be the way it's been always done before.”

But other board members and community representatives railed against this, saying it’s vital that members of the public have their say, and that candidates face the community in a public forum.

"Number one, if the person sitting at that seat cannot take that heat from this moment, we know that that's not our candidate,” Fraga said. “That, to me, is very important.”

Ultimately, the board will conduct formal interviews with the three finalists during special school board meetings, where members of the public will be able to provide input.

Hantman will be finalizing the question format with input from human resources staff and the board attorney’s office. Community stakeholders are being invited to submit their own questions, which will be vetted.