Black Alumni Say Superintendent Alberto Carvalho Ignores Their Schools

Categories: El Jefe

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The confetti wafted onto his impossibly square shoulders. The Nashville audience stood and roared. Then a medal on a royal-blue ribbon was draped around Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho's neck. Last month, after more than five years of agonizingly hard work, the self-proclaimed son of "pretty dramatic poverty" who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with no electricity or running water was named the nation's school superintendent of the year.

"If we can crack the code to student achievement in Miami, [which is] so poor, so diverse," said Carvalho, still wearing the medal beneath his tailored sport coat after the event, "it is a solution for the rest of the nation."

Problem is, his "solution" is under attack. Parents and alumni representing predominantly African-American schools in the urban core claim Carvalho has betrayed them and ignored their interests. A letter sent last week by angry, frustrated members of Inner City Alumni for Responsible Education (ICARE), an umbrella group representing alumni associations from seven of Miami-Dade County's largest inner-city high schools, accuses Carvalho of being "a slick operator" and showing "neglect and apathy" for black schools while caving to concerns from other ethnic groups.

"All we get from the superintendent is broken promise after broken promise," says Larry Williams, president of Miami Northwestern High's alumni association and a 1974 grad. "Our schools have the worst technology, the buildings are outdated, and he just pushes us to the back burner and then lies about it."

The detailed, six-page letter of protest comes at an inopportune time for Carvalho. This past weekend, he visited Northwestern for a celebration of the school's academic achievements. According to the Miami Herald, he's rumored to be pondering "leaving the district for a job with a higher profile." And he is likely to meet soon with President Obama to celebrate his superintendent-of-the-year honor.

After I sent the alumni letter to Carvalho's office last week, his chief of staff, Milagros Fornell, responded with an even more exhaustive missive that described the school department's efforts to distribute money fairly, increase hiring of African-Americans, and work with businesses in the community. "Over the past 5.5 years, we believe we have come together as a community," she wrote, following with a favorite Carvalho-ism. "No longer an uneasy collection of factions, we are one Miami."

Carvalho, a handsome, charismatic man who speaks with a slight accent from his childhood in Portugal, took the helm at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation's fourth-largest district, in July 2008. He replaced Rudy Crew, a baby-faced former head of New York City public schools -- whom the Miami-Dade school board fired.

Among Carvalho's first actions was a public meeting with the black community at the cavernous Caleb Center. Attendees were skeptical. After all, Crew, who is African-American, was fired from the job soon after becoming Florida's first national superintendent of the year. (Carvalho is, coincidentally, the second.) Members of the community feared they would be forgotten.

But according to William "DC" Clark, president of Miami Central's alumni association and author of the protest letter, Carvalho made a "stirring speech" and then walked into a circle of men. "If you walk with me, if you get involved," the superintendent said, "I promise you we can make the necessary changes in this community [to] make us proud."

So Clark and the other leaders of the alumni associations -- Edison, Booker T. Washington, Norland, Jackson, Northwestern, and Carol City -- began holding meetings with Carvalho in his downtown Miami office. They asked for more hiring of black administrators. And they demanded that more federal money meant for poor students be directed toward the institutions the leaders represented. Clark says they met ten times. Others say the number of meetings was more like two dozen.

"I was one of his biggest proponents, and I consider him a friend," says Clark, a retired firefighter whose two daughters and grandson also attended Central. "But he has betrayed the community. He's playing a shell game with our kids' lives."

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Didn't read the actual letter but the article makes it seem like the largest complaints are that they want new stadiums for their football teams, a branding office to make money off of school brands, and more black contractors. While all sound desirable, I can understand them not being top priorities considering some of the challenges the school board has been facing. The "pissing on our heads" comment sounds a bit dramatic in context. In any case, I'm curious to see how he responds and hope any rifts are mended. This community, more than any other in this county, has been routinely under-served and I hope this is changing.


Some people just refuse to be pleased. When Alberto Carvalho took over as superintendent, the inner-city schools were suffering. Some were on the verge of state takeovers. Under Carvalho's leadership, those ships have been righted and those schools are now excelling. But he ignores the black community? 

This man has been a Godsend for our community. Our ENTIRE community. No one and I mean no one has ever done with the position of superintendent what he has. During an recession, he managed not to lay off a single teacher. During that same recession, he improved overall performance on a slashed budget. He came into a divided school board and unified them. He's been accountable at every step. 

I understand that some schools may have better facilities and equipment than others. I understand that everyone wants their community schools to have the best and the most modern. I have no doubt that Alberto Carvalho wants that for every kid in Miami-Dade County. It doesn't happen overnight, but under his leadership, it is going to happen. That is if you actually consider his track record.


Alberto Carvalho is a special case. He sits imperially impervious, camouflaged in a fancy suit, with neatly groomed hair, articulate, paranoid, well-scripted, self-absorbed, intelligent, cunning, calculated and always looking ahead. He is the ultimate political illusionist with a top-hat full of tricks, treats and facades. 

Sadly, many of those seated in the front row of this magic show are from the urban core. Even more unfortunate and depressing is, when some of these good community leaders come up for air...when they surface to realize they may have been duped...and they call out Carvalho to fix it; he responds the same way every time.  

He must have some type of kit with the words,"In Case of Emergency Within the Black Community...Do This:

Clicks the heels of his expensive shoes; make phone calls using a list kept in his office to the usual list of community member groupies that he occasionally dines with and ask them to do damage control within the community and speak at the school board meeting on his behalf; hold meeting with hand-selected faith-based leaders; schedule a radio show interview on black radio with his head of human resources and bring some Black faces from his Cabinet and Senior Staff; offer up fancy words and rhymes which amount to nothing more than plugs and patches to fix the gaping holes that exist within the inner-city schools and communities; schedule media press release and news conference and make sure the same Black faces are standing behind him; send out tweets and Facebook messages; make a visit to a sporting event at an inner-city school; and so on-and so on-and so on, until the very same critics are silenced and the noise is gone. 

Stop buying it!   

Carvalho may be a little man, but he must always have the biggest chair in the room. All roads must lead to him. A fancy vocabulary with big ambitions, big dreams and motivation all tied to the only thing that matters-himself. His career. His name. His resume. His photos. His brand. His image.

The Miami Dade school system has never been so politicized. It has never been so Superintendent-centric. It has never been so image conscientious, not to say that is a bad thing, but it is to the point of obsession. The weekly media stories are ad nausea. How many awards can one place into their trophy case? It becomes a distraction to the children and the teachers. Enough already. He appears in the media more than any elected local official, and local professional athlete for that matter, yet he enjoys the comfort and protection of prancing around as an appointed administrator. 

Can the school system just be run with some humility and modestly? Can the energy that goes into marketing Carvalho be redirected to the classroom and children...specifically the inner-city schools? Can the grandstanding just pause? Doesn't the Superintendent work for the School Board or do they work for him? It is never a good practice to hand anyone in this type of position such a long-term contract, yet the School Board did just that. 

Children can be an easy prop or pawn to use and rally behind because they are as American as Chevrolet and Apple Pie. When one wears a mask for so long, they actually begin to believe they are who the mask is.    

The truth is there are problems in the cathedral Carvalho has made. His Carvalho-isms are played out. When he speaks of "moral responsibility and imperatives," one has to look no further than when media reports of his alleged affair with a news reporter covering the school system surfaced. All is not how it appears. When he rants about "promises made and promises kept," there may be those, according to this article, that disagree with him.   

It just appears that he is constantly over-correcting, but for what? No one needs or wants the Superintendent to be a saint...or a savior...and they don't want a rock-star either. Just be a teacher...that is what you claim to be so often and how you started this journey.   

Rudy Crew was jettisoned out of town for a number of reasons-some his own and others the doing of those closest to him. Those within the school system know how toxic, corrupt and dishonest it is. Carvalho, when he is not bloating and boasting about himself, constantly refers to how the school district is transparent and open. Please, do not for a minute, believe the system will ever be an open book. Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle but it is he or she that rules the castle that sets the rules for the castle.   

This article suggests some of the community has had enough and that is why it may be in the best interest of everyone that a change in the Superintendency come and come now. It is no secret that rumors suggest Carvalho has plans and ambitions to hold a higher office. 

Go now know how important timing is...and there may be no tardy pass for you if you stay too long.   

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