Congratulations, Mr. Dotres! Miami-Dade’s School Board already has saddled you with a huge burden | Editorial

Candidate for Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres participates in a public interview at the school board’s headquarters in downtown Miami, Florida on Monday, January 24, 2022. Dotres, deputy superintendent of Collier County Public Schools, is one of three finalist applying for the position of superintendent. (MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com)
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And just like that — in less than an hour of deliberations after a marathon of interviews that ended late Monday evening — the Miami-Dade County School Board picked a new superintendent. And no one is surprised that the board ignored community concerns about the speed of the process. Nor is anyone surprised about the winner.

Jose Dotres, a former district executive who left last year to become deputy superintendent in Collier County, was expected to be the board’s pick even before the process started. He received support from six of nine board members. Jacob Oliva, senior chancellor for the Florida Department of Education, got three votes. A third candidate, New York City Department of Education veteran Rafaela Espinal, received none.

As the Herald Editorial Board has said from the beginning, this was not the ideal process — not because Dotres lacks qualifications to lead Florida’s largest school district, but because the board gave applicants only seven days to submit their resumes and rushed a process that required more discussion and deliberation.

A flawed process

Dotres, a 30-year Miami-Dade Schools veteran, will have to contend with the ramifications of the board’s decision. He might face skepticism from community members who believe he was treated as the heir apparent to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s post (Carvalho is scheduled to leave for the Los Angeles school district in early February). Carvalho’s larger-than-life shadow will loom over his successor, who’s already facing criticism from some School Board members for living in Broward County and not Miami-Dade. Member Lubby Navarro, who voted against his nomination, has asked that a provision be included in Dotres’ contract requiring him to move here.

“I want somebody to be part of this community,” Navarro said at Monday’s meeting. “I want someone to go to churches on Sundays.”

Navarro has a point, and her colleagues should follow her lead. Living in a community creates visibility and buy-in from parents. But we’re more interested in seeing how Dotres will use his depth of experience in Miami-Dade and other school districts, including Broward, to address pressing needs. That he was a teacher and later principal at Hialeah Gardens Elementary, where he worked with students on the autism spectrum, is a plus.

Dotres must also address how long he plans to stay on the job. He said he’s scheduled to enter Florida’s deferred retirement option program (DROP) in about two and a half years, adding that a lot can be done in that period of time. He billed himself as the candidate who would “bring continuity” to the district, but we don’t want the next superintendent to be a temporary Band-aid. Carvalho’s success has largely been attributed to his longevity on the job — 14 years — which is unheard of for a superintendent in a large district. Board member Marta Perez, who also voted against Dotres’ nomination, said a district’s performance is directly linked to how long its leader has been on the job.

Academic standards

We hope Dotres’ tenure is as long as it is productive. He should start by making COVID-19-related learning losses his priority, as well as historic disparities in achievement. In 2019, 52% of poor students were reading at grade level compared to 73% of higher-income ones — and that was before the pandemic.

In that same year, 40% of Black students read at grade level compared to 77% of white ones. He suggested allocating more resources to low-performing schools and providing teachers with 20-minute video lessons on the common misconceptions students have about the subjects. He also told the School Board he’s been involved with district finances in Collier, which he said will help him keep the district on solid ground when federal COVID-relief dollars run out.

Dotres will also have to help persuade Miami-Dade taxpayers to renew a tax referendum to support teacher and school police salaries. Failing to do so could hurt the district’s efforts to retain talent. He must also be an advocate for Miami-Dade in Tallahassee, which holds the purse strings on K-12 funding and has a top-down approach to education policy that has taken away districts’ ability to make their own decisions on topics like mask mandates.

The list of Miami-Dade County Public Schools priorities can go on and on. For now, let’s welcome Dotres back to South Florida. Yes, it was an imperfect process, but we’re rooting for Dotres to prove all the skeptics wrong.

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