In a dramatic moment that could have been scripted in Hollywood, Miami-Dade County schools chief Alberto Carvalho on Thursday turned down an offer to run the largest school system in the country, New York’s.
One reason it was so shocking: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced late Wednesday that Carvalho was his choice to lead the 1.1 million-student system, and there seemed to be no question in the announcement that the offer had been accepted. Another reason: the way Carvalho delivered his news to the public.
It came at the end of an hours-long emergency meeting of the Miami-Dade School Board, where Carvalho was begged to stay by students, administrators and board members. Carvalho then gave a speech to announce his decision, only to stop abruptly and ask for a five-minute break. He left the standing-room-only auditorium and returned after nearly half an hour. He started to speak again, but instead of announcing he was going to New York, he suggested he had to call de Blasio. He then asked for another break and came back to say he was staying in Miami.
Carvalho, a highly respected superintendent who has been at the helm in Miami for a decade and who some in Miami say has political ambitions, said Thursday that in the end, he could not leave Miami because of promises he had made there.
“I just don’t know how to break a promise to a child, how to break a promise to a community,” he said at the meeting in Miami, prompting a torrent of tweets from journalists and others expressing shock at the decision. “That has weighed on me over the last 24 hours like nothing has weighed on me before.”
After de Blasio’s announcement went out Wednesday, some people in Miami noted there was no announcement from Carvalho’s office.
On Thursday, Carvalho said he had been set to go to New York but changed his mind after receiving some 500 messages overnight, and he said to the crowd at the meeting, “I am breaking an agreement” to stay in Miami. Later he tweeted:
Carvalho said it was the “second-most difficult decision” of his life, after leaving Portugal, where he was born into a poor family and came to this country as an undocumented immigrant. Once a day laborer, he rose to become one of the most respected school chiefs in the country and was tapped as the 2014 National Superintendent of the Year.
During his decade in Miami-Dade County, the fourth-largest school district in the country, he has overseen an increase in the graduation rate, from 60 percent in 2008 to nearly 81 percent in 2017. The vast majority of students in the predominantly Hispanic district come from low-income families.
He came out against arming teachers, and in recent years he has spoken against over-testing students and about the failures of Florida’s accountability system, which is based on standardized testing. While a supporter of charter schools, he has criticized the state legislature for not spending enough on traditional public school districts and passing laws that favor alternatives to them.
Thursday’s meeting earned the Twitter handle #TheCarvalhoShow, where the event was chronicled. This is mostly part of a remarkable thread from Patricia Mazzei, the Miami bureau chief of The New York Times, and though it’s long, it’s well worth reading to capture the drama of the meeting.