The Biscayne Times

Aug 11th
A Do-Over at MSE PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
July 2019

Miami Shores elementary to deploy renowned learning models

MPix_JohnIse_7-19ost sophisticates in the greater Miami Shores communities have at least a vague notion of Brown v. Board of Education. Stretch your neural synapses back to high school civics, and recall that the 1954 Supreme Court case decided that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional.

While subsequent efforts to desegregate public schools were sometimes successful, all too often the end result was white flight, with middle-class, particularly white middle-class families, fleeing their local public schools.

But a dozen years later came another finding that is arguably just as profound: James Coleman, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, proposed a unique twist on the Brown case. Coleman argued that schools should target integration based on the socioeconomic status of students over race and ethnicity. His 1966 report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, found that if public education’s primary goal is to raise the pupils’ academic achievement, then promoting a socioeconomic mix of students was even more important than changing the racial composition of the school.

“The educational resources provided by a child’s fellow students,” wrote Coleman, “are more important for his achievement than are the resources provided by the school board.”

It makes all the sense in the world.

Kids learn as much from their peers as they do from their teachers. Statistics have shown that mixing children from middle- and upper-income families, who more predictably value education, with children from families a notch down the economic ladder, can create an upward educational gravitational pull for all socioeconomic groups. An ancillary benefit is that citizenship, tolerance, and social adaptation are likewise improved.

Yet in educational circles, there’s constant chatter on everything else -- not how to foster improved performance by making schools more socioeconomically balanced. Liberals fixate on funding, while conservatives tout vouchers and standardized tests.

Miami Shores Elementary School (MSES) is an example of a school suffering from a substantial abandonment by its home community. A recent survey by the school district found that about half of the Shores residents whose elementary-age children are enrolled in the public-school system and who live within the MSES feeder pattern opt instead to send their kids to another public school.

Add in the families whose kids are in private schools, and we get the idea that too many in the Miami Shores area don’t feel at home in their own home school.

MSES, a school of 614 (it’s at 85 percent of full capacity) has been rated a “C” school for the past four years, since 2015. Considering that 49 percent of Miami-Dade’s elementary schools are rated “A” and another 31 percent are rated “B,” it doesn’t surprise that many local upwardly minded parents send their children elsewhere.

According the school district survey, the prime reason Miami Shores parents give for choosing not to send their kids to Miami Shores Elementary is the perception the school lacks academic rigor.

Couple that with the thorny dynamic that MSES, centrally located in upper-crust Miami Shores, hosts a student body that is about 75 percent on free and reduced lunch, i.e., of modest economic means. One frequently hears the Shores parents of MSES pupils say that the school is long as your kid is in the gifted program.

Recognizing the disconnect, former Miami Shores Mayor Mac Glinn began exploring how the village could play a catalytic role in improving the school.

Like me, Glinn sends his kids to iPrep Academy, a pre-K-12 school originally targeted to school board employees (but later opened up). Built into a school board annex near the Omni, iPrep no doubt benefits from the presence of Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who also serves as the school’s principal.

iPrep bills itself as a “global focus magnet school that incorporates innovative teaching strategies in a technology-rich environment. This innovative school has become synonymous with terms such as flipped classroom, blended learning, technology, and internships.”

Part of the iPrep appeal is the atmosphere of its open classrooms, which lack doors and emphasize shared spaces in a breezy, bright environment. All students at iPrep are enrolled in honors, advanced placement, or dual enrollment courses.

As Glinn was pursuing replicating the iPrep model at MSES, Dana Vignale, a Shores resident and director in the school board’s Office of School Choice and Innovation, caught wind of Glinn’s efforts. Coincidently, her office was engaged in a study exploring the effects of school choice options (like iPrep) on neighborhood schools (like MS Elementary).

Since 2015, Vignale had successfully implemented the Cambridge Assessment International Education model at multiple Miami-Dade schools. The Cambridge program (from England, not Massachusetts) achieves a similar purpose of international baccalaureate programs, with an emphasis on critical thinking, cognition, and problem solving.

So Glinn and Vignale combined efforts, and using the vehicle of the Miami Shores Educational Advisory Committee, began to pursue a blended iPrep/Cambridge program to be implemented at MSES this fall.

The Miami Shores Village Council backed up the effort at a June 3 meeting, allocating $92,000 to offset training expenses for MSES teachers in the Cambridge curriculum, and compensating those teachers with bonus stipends.

This possibly serves as the most momentous action of the Village Council in 2019. The new Cambridge curriculum, along with iPrep-type physical renovations, could radically improve MSES.

But there are still challenges.

First, it will be critical for on-site school leadership and staff to buy into and support the endeavor. Then there is a pressing need for the council to actively market and promote the MSE as a “new” school beginning a “new day.”

Finally, if more residents continue to send their children elsewhere, the possibility for school improvement may all come to naught (alas, my own iPrep kids are close to aging out of MSES). Remember, the village has spent our tax money with the intention of improving MSES for us. If you improve a community’s school, you will improve the broader community. And the quality of local school options ranks just behind crime as the most important variable for where families with children choose to live.

And if villagers will do right by their children by choosing MSES, they’ll arguably perform a broader community service. A more socioeconomically diverse student body at MSES will benefit children from all economic backgrounds. Returning to James Coleman, “a child’s performance, especially a working-class child’s performance, is greatly benefited by going to a school with children who come from educationally stronger backgrounds.”

Shores residents and their children can be catalytic in creating a high-performing and high-caliber MSES that benefits Shores and non-Shores children alike.

As the saying goes: “We all do better when we all do better.”


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