Sharp questions surfaced at a school board meeting Wednesday over the evaluation of an alternative to suspension program, launched in 2015 after the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system said it would eliminate out-of-school suspensions.
‘Student success centers’ began last year as a way to send students who misbehaved to a setting where they’d get academic support and access to counseling. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has described the move to eliminate suspensions as an effort “stop the hemorrhaging of talent and potential of troubled kids from district schools. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has responded to criticism over staffing, transportation, and attendance at the success centers by making adjustments to the program to improve communication with families and students’ home schools.
At the end of the first year, the district commissioned a $45,000 dollar evaluation of the program by Q-Q Research Consultants, but the evaluators’ report included no feedback from students, teachers, or principals at sending schools.
“I am very adamant about getting input from parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders,” said Miami-Dade County School Board member Steve Gallon, whose district includes a number of schools that have had high rates of suspension in the past. “These decisions have specific implications for staff: the teachers and principals were not included. Why was that?”
Gallon put forward a proposal to strengthen oversight of success centers with a task force made up of district staff, students, and parents that would make recommendations to improve the program. He used discussion of the item to ask pointed questions of staff who arranged the evaluation, which drew on data for hundreds of students but only used interviews with three families. “Is there a reason no middle school parents were interviewed at all?” Gallon asked.
“I would have to get that information to you,” replied Deputy Superintendent Valtena Brown. “I know the evaluator received the names, the telephone numbers, the IDs of the students that were there.”
The exchange was unusually contentious for Miami-Dade, where school board members often vote unanimously and do not generally air criticism over school management publicly. Two different board members intervened to suggest that Gallon’s grilling might make more sense in a different setting.
“It seems like the questions are very difficult for the staff to answer answer off the cuff,” interjected Vice Chair Marta Perez, suggesting that Gallon revisit his questions another day.
Gallon continued his questioning. His motion to strengthen oversight of the success center program passed.
Read the first Student Success Centers Evaluation Report: