Exclusive Interview with Miami-Dade Superintendent Dr. Jose L. Dotres
“Doral schools are fantastic”, Dr. José L. Dotres
By: Diana Bello Aristizabal
Effective February 14, Dr. Jose Dotres assumed his new role as Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Schools, replacing Alberto Carvalho. Taking advantage of his first visit to Doral on April 7, Doral Family Journal decided to speak to him about the challenges and opportunities facing us for our district. That’s what he told us.
Doral Family Journal: The school district’s two priorities are to close the achievement gap and improve student mental health. What challenges have you been able to overcome on these two fronts and what measures have been taken?
Dr. Dotres: Many students missed instructional time and fell behind academically. Therefore, the main challenge is to accelerate learning. To do this, we are incorporating additional instructional time before and after school, and we have opened a spring academy in which 155 schools in the district have participated.
We also had a meeting with 81 directors of the most vulnerable schools in the neighborhood to inquire about the progress of their students. We have noticed that there is progress in the area of mathematics, but we are concerned about reading, as students have become more accustomed to learning through electronic devices. For this reason, we are now focusing on building reading skills.
When it comes to mental health, we have had isolated cases of violence within schools and the only way to get around this is if we start to see every student in a healthy way, considering not only their academic performance but also their profile. socio-emotional, this is the direction that education must now take.
In order to support students in their socio-emotional needs, we have added new administrative roles.
DFJ: What new roles will be included within schools considering that most families don’t have access to mental health services, and sometimes they don’t know how to deal with their children’s difficulties?
Dr. Dotres: We will have three key positions. The position of student counselor will be retained, but we will also include mental health specialists, and we are adding a new role at each school called student academic support specialist.
Those in this role have experience in social work and other areas of mental health, where they will act as a link between the counselor and the mental health specialist.
We must not forget that to help children, we must work with their families, we cannot do the work alone. Parents who need support can call 305-995-7100 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 305-995-1000.
DFJ: Many are concerned about bullying because it’s well known that if levels of anxiety and depression go up, so do the instances of bullying and violence. What are we doing to solve this problem?
Dr. Dotres: We talk with students and principals to create a positive culture within schools so that children feel comfortable while they learn. It is essential that schools have a welcoming atmosphere, that personal respect is encouraged and that lessons are given in what is good treatment among classmates.
In addition, we place great importance on ensuring that every child has a sense of belonging at school, because we know that as the culture changes, fewer acts of violence take place.
Something very important to note is that children need to lose their fear of speaking. If someone feels mistreated, the parents have to let the school know and sometimes that doesn’t happen. In addition, it is essential to teach children to raise their voices if they witness something.
DFJ: How do you see Doral’s educational community?
Dr. Dotres: Doral is known for putting education first as its members always work to help schools deliver results and benefit the community. For this reason, the performances are quite high, although, as in other municipalities, we must continue to work on the socio-emotional health of the students.
There is great interest in the Doral schools, which I must say are fantastic, having more specialized academies and innovations to retain students, as well as accelerated learning programs.
DJF: What are the objectives of the school board?
Dr. Dotres: First, accelerate student learning. It must be understood that this cannot be done overnight, since it is necessary to accompany and train teachers on how to achieve this.
To improve academic success, the school board will focus on working one-on-one with each ethnic group, such as Latino, American, or African American populations.
A second objective will be the recruitment of teachers, taking into account that the pandemic has brought us significant losses both nationally and locally. In our district, we need to work not only on salaries but also on creating the conditions for educators to feel confident and to grow in their careers, we pay a lot of attention to these issues.