High School Redesign in Miami, Florida

High School Redesign in Miami, Florida
High School Redesign in Miami, Florida


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) has sponsored a series of field trips focused on high school redesign to provide state education officials, state legislators, and other education policymakers an opportunity to see first-hand how other states and districts have addressed high school reform challenges through new policy approaches. Each trip in the series of ten focused on one of the key goals of the Honor States Grant Program, an initiative of the National Governors Association aimed at helping states reform their high school systems. Sessions with state and local leaders and visits to schools provide participants with a close look at exemplary programs as well as opportunities to ask questions and discuss their observations. This project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


This trip was specifically designed to allow state policy leaders to:

  • learn about Florida’s recent legislation, the Governor’s A++ Plan, intended to increase rigor and relevance in secondary schools by requiring all incoming ninth graders in 2007 to select career majors and minors;
  • learn about the Miami-Dade County School District’s plan to redesign high schools, specifically for improving the rigor and relevance of the high school experience by creating career academies in every high school; and
  • engage in policy discussions with district and state leaders and gain information that can be applied in their own states.

Florida Secondary School Reform – Presentation by Lillian Finn, Florida Director of Secondary School Reform

In June of 2006, the Governor of Florida approved new state legislation governing high school graduation requirements. Beginning with students entering their first year of high school in the 2007-2008 school year, graduation requires the successful completion of a minimum of 24 credits, an International Baccalaureate curriculum, or an Advanced International Certificate of Education curriculum. In addition, all high school students are required to pass Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in order to graduate from high school.  Lillian Finn, Florida Director of Secondary School Reform, said that students must complete 24 credits for a standard diploma with 16 core curriculum credits and four credits in a major area of interest (MAI) which provides a relevant education for students and engages them by offering career exploration opportunities and four credits of general electives. Students work with counselors and career specialists to select a MAI from a list of over 400 majors in one of the following areas: career preparation, fine and performing arts, or an academic content area of interest. For students who participate in a career academy, the theme of the career academy becomes their MAI. Classes to fulfill the MAI are offered through the high school, virtual education, or dual enrollment at a local community college. Furthermore, the additional four general elective credits for graduation can be used towards a MAI coursework of study or a minor area of interest.

Finn indicated that there was broad philosophical support for this change, but educators were not sure how to integrate the reforms with their existing school schedules and structures. The state undertook a public relations campaign on the new legislation so that school districts, schools, employers, students, and parents were informed of the changes. The state also provided workshops for guidance counselors and teachers as well as web-based technical assistance.  Work has focused on helping schools organize in a way to allow students the time to earn these credits. Finn explained that the state did not provide any new money for this initiative because it fits into the current requirement that students earn 24 credits for high school graduation. Funding from the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act has been used to pay for equipment for career and technical education (CTE) classes, and some general funds have been available to implement career academies, but the state did not believe this change would require new dollars, rather it felt school districts needed to allocate resources differently.

Meetings with staff from Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) is the fourth largest school district in the United States and includes 376 schools, 52 high schools, 40 charter schools, and spans 24 square miles. M-DCPS spends approximately $7,000 per pupil. In 2006 and 2007, M-DCPS was selected as a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education for the following reasons: Miami-Dade outperformed other Florida districts serving students with similar income levels in reading and math at all grade levels; Miami-Dade’s low-income, African-American and Hispanic student subgroups outperformed their peers in similar districts in reading and math at all levels; and Miami-Dade has reduced achievement gaps between African-American and Hispanic students and their White peers in math at all levels.

Meeting with Dr. Rudy Crew, Superintendent, M-DCPS

Dr. Crew was brought on as Superintendent in July 2004 and quickly defined three priorities for the school district: eliminating low-performing schools, increasing academic achievement for all students, and bringing cost-efficiency to the district’s construction and business practices.

Dr. Crew described his time with M-DCPS as a journey. He felt the pace of change was important and set a schedule for the changes that needed to get started quickly and others that could be spread over a longer time. Crew wanted to make sure that people saw some immediate changes, but other initiatives were delayed until certain issues were resolved and other components were underway. The immediate focus when Crew started was to create the environment and culture that low-performing schools would not be tolerated, and that the theology of low-performing schools needed to be “unpacked” so that educators could begin to understand why some schools performed better than others. Crew wanted to develop an approach to improving low-performing schools both in terms of funding but also professional development and structural issues such as the length of the school day and school year.  Crew said that during the first 19 months of his tenure, he spent a great deal of time looking at research and reviewing work in other districts, such as New York City, where he served as Chancellor from 1995-1999.

Crew deliberately focused attention on instruction and teaching rather than testing. “We started to go FCAT crazy,” Crew said, “with our conversations being driven by the focus on FCAT scores.” By focusing solely on FCAT scores, Crew believed that their work would be limited and short-sighted.  Asking deeper questions allowed staff to address instructional methodology, parental involvement, effective use of assessments, and effective use of data. The pace of change has now slowed down, and the work has gotten deeper and more reflective, and Crew stated that they have moved out of the “fright zone,” and staff are not as worried about change.

A central component of the new reform curriculum is to develop not only academic literacy, but also the civic literacy, occupational literacy, and personal literacy skills that are needed for success in today’s society and workplace. Crew also recognized the importance of being more creative with the curriculum by using the arts as a method or tool in cognitive development of youth.  In addition to bringing the arts back into school, Crew focused on professional development for teachers and staff to engage in deeper discussions about instruction.  “Reform and instructional change needs to be organized around real work, so we used professional development to redesign new schools.  This led to the redesign of secondary schools with the end goal focusing on all youth, including non-collegiate and vocational education students,” stated Crew.

As a way to develop a common vision, cohorts of administrators and staff were sent to Harvard University to learn about educational reform strategies.  Crew believed that exposing administrators and educational leaders to the same ideas about reform strategies would result in a more cohesive and shared approach to reform. Additionally, staff was sent to visit other cities and districts to develop an awareness of other programs and ideas that could be incorporated into their own reform efforts.

Another focus of the district has been on the design and the architecture of secondary school reform. Crew asked the question, “What is the right architecture to do this work, and how can the pace of change be managed to keep it moving, but not push too hard that people stop working?”  Reform efforts looked at the architecture of schools, keeping in mind that many of the secondary schools that needed redesign have between 3,000 to 4,000 students. District staff identified the main topics to address, including how to improve serious truancy problems, how to embrace the business community and provide internships, and how to work with students in a personal way.  District administrators were also concerned with creating a process of change that integrated the agendas of teachers and principals rather than imposing change on teachers and principals.  Time was dedicated to researching best practices as well as creating a plan to change the structure of the lowest performing high schools. By working closely with the schools, the district’s reform efforts have resulted in a school-centric approach recognizing that each school has different needs and thus change needs to be managed based on those needs.

One of the reform initiatives started by Crew has been the creation of Parent Academies. The Parent Academy’s mission is to educate parents on how to become “active partners” in their child’s achievement and success while also strengthening the family unit and uniting families, schools, and the community. The Parent Academy thrives by using internal and external partnerships to offer workshops, family learning events, lunch and learn sessions, lecture series, and other resources.  Parent workshops are offered at 201 locations and follow nine subject strands:

  • Help Your Child Learn
  • Parenting Skills
  • Early Childhood
  • Arts and Culture
  • Languages
  • Computers and Technology
  • Health and Wellness
  • Financial Skills
  • Personal Growth

Almost 70,000 parents have taken classes in a Parent Academy. The most popular classes focus on relationships between parents, children, and school, understanding what the SAT is, learning about getting children into college, and keeping children from joining gangs.

Crew emphasized, “We have been building a culture that encourages everyone to take risks to help all kids. We have to become better designers, better architects, and make the track more winnable for students. The district has now transformed from a telling culture into a teaching culture.”

Meeting with Debbie Karcher, Chief Information Officer, M-DCPS

Debbie Karcher said that Crew wanted to make decisions based on data and that NCLB added to the pressure to ensure that districts and schools were analyzing and using student performance data, but that the current data system did not meet their needs. A new data system was also needed due to the 40% student mobility rate that M-DCPS experiences. When students moved to new schools, teachers were not able to access their records quickly enough to determine their instructional levels or other learning needs. The district selected the Cognos 8 Business Intelligence (Cognos 8 BI) system, which allows information from several disparate systems, including student demographics, human resources, instructional, and non-instructional data, to be linked into one database. The system also provides for a complete integration of grades, quality assessments, and FCAT scores. In addition, a centralized delivery system for reporting the data and for putting it in a user-friendly “dashboard” and scorecard was created. Cognos 8 BI also allows indicators to be marked in green (trending up); orange (no progress); or red (trending down) as a quick and visible way to alert principals and others to important student outcomes. Student records now are available to teachers as soon as a student enrolls.

The system was developed over a period of several years and has been modified and enhanced based on feedback from the users. Karcher stated, “You need to develop a data system with input from users in the beginning, and you need champions in the schools and across the district who see the value of such an information system to ensure widespread adoption.” The district uses monthly webcasts to share information regarding any changes (such as upgrades or enhancements to or specific data issues with the system). Given the physical size of the district, this is an effective means of staying in regular contact with principals and school leaders who use the database.

The data system offers pertinent information for all stakeholders in the system, including administrators, principals, teachers, students, and parents. Portals are designed and customized to provide the type of information most important to each user group. The system provides data on every student for three previous years including attendance, grades, and demographics.  Employee records including sick and vacation leave and a summary of human resources policies are also kept on the system, which is designed to ensure privacy by password-protecting records.

As a result of standardizing information on the Cognos 8 BI system, the district has been able to better target instruction, make better school staffing decisions, and reduce costs through improved budgeting and operational efficiency, which Karcher said has resulted in improved student performance. Because of Cognos 8 BI, the district has much more data available to make instructional decisions. As Karcher said, “We now know what textbooks are being used in each classroom. Soon we will be able to track data about teachers (preparation, skill levels, seniority, etc.) against student performance. We can connect teacher absences to student performance now, and soon we will be able to do much more to understand issues of teachers’ impact on student learning.”

Meeting with Dr. Kamela Patton, Assistant Superintendent, M-DCPS

As a way to ensure that all of the district staff is working in a coordinated fashion on the neediest schools, Patton said that Crew instituted senior level Cabinet meetings once a month to discuss the status of low-performing schools or schools that have been targeted for intervention due to low scores (D’s or F’s) in English or math on the FCAT. ComSTAT (communication status) meetings are a mechanism for ensuring intentional action on behalf of needy schools. If a school has been targeted for low performance, the administrative team will review data about the school’s demographics and identify appropriate interventions while also determining if progress is being made.

Patton discussed the importance of creating a data system that allows for data-driven decision making.  Area superintendents or principals can request specific assistance, support, or new resources from the district office for low-performing schools, but the request must be supported by data demonstrating how the resources will help improve student outcomes. The ComSTAT reviews these requests and acts upon them in five days to ensure quick action and then tracks the data to determine the impact of the intervention.

Meeting with Dr. Geneva Woodard, Associate Superintendent, School Improvement Zone, and Millie Fornell, Assistant Superintendent, Secondary Education, Curriculum and Instruction, M-DCPS

Woodard and Fornell provided an overview of the district’s Secondary School Reform (SSR) Plan and the School Improvement Zone (Zone) initiative. The SSR Plan is a roadmap for substantively altering the educational experience of all middle and senior high school students in the district and ensuring that future graduates have the skills that they need to effectively compete in the global workplace. The SSR has served as the launching point to engage business and community leaders to invest in an invigorated, rigorous public school system. Schools that are part of the SSR initiative receive approximately $900,000 to $1 million to help with their reform efforts.

In creating the SSR plan, district staff began with a fundamental question, “What should we do to reform high schools?” Staff realized that their schools needed to be personalized, but that the large size of many of their schools posed an obstacle to providing a personalized education.  Fortunately, 26 M-DCPS high schools had already received funding under the Federal Small Learning Communities (SLC) grant program, and a great deal of work had already been done to create small learning environments, particularly with a focus on ninth grade academies. Staff was also interested in aligning their work with the work of the National High School Alliance (HS Alliance) and their six core principles:

  • Personalized Learning Environments
  • Empowered Educators
  • Accountable Leaders
  • Integrated Systems of High Standards, Curriculum, Instruction, Assessments, and Supports
  • Engaged Community and Youth
  • Academic Engagement of All Students

Based on these concepts, the goal of the SSR Plan is to increase graduation rates and prepare students for college, technical school, or a career by:

  • Implementation of career academies in all senior high schools.
  • An enhanced senior year experience which includes internships aligned to each students’ career path goals.
  • Increased rigor of all academic subjects including mathematics, English, science and social studies all four years.
  • Increased access by all students to Advanced Placement courses.
  • Improved articulation between elementary and middle school and middle and senior high school.
  • Increased guidance and counseling and college awareness activities.

A major focus of the SSR is the creation of career academies. As a structural support to moving to career academies, over 30 high schools had already moved to block scheduling, facilitating the implementation of career academies. The National Academy Foundation (NAF) was also brought in to help train principals in the design of career academies. M-DCPS also works with business advisory groups to identify and develop internship opportunities. However, because the district has so many students, obtaining internships for their 12,000 high school seniors presents capacity and logistical issues. The district is also creating clearer pathways to show students how their participation in a career academy and MAI leads to postsecondary education and available careers.

As a result of the work on the SSR Plan, M-DCPS reports that in the past two years, all secondary schools report:

  • Improved attendance rates.
  • Reduced drop-out rates.
  • Increased percentage of students meeting high levels of performance standards.
  • Increased participation in honors and Advanced Placement courses.
  • Increased participation in SAT and ACT testing programs.
  • Increased numbers of students participating in internship, dual enrollment, and apprenticeship experiences.
  • Increased numbers of students who pursue postsecondary education.

Woodard and Fornell also discussed the School Improvement Zone initiative, created to focus on the most challenging schools and ensure a special support structure within the district headquarters. The goal is to provide extra resources to improve student performance by extending the school day by one hour, extending the school year by two weeks, providing intensive small group instruction for students scoring at Level I and II (out of V) on the FCAT, allowing early release for teachers one day a week for planning, and extra professional development for teachers beyond what is normally available. About $41 million is available for schools in the Zone initiative, and most of the funding comes from Title I (Title I money in M-DCPS goes to schools with about 2/3 low socioeconomic status populations). Currently, there are 39 schools in the Zone Initiative, eight of them  senior high schools, 11 middle schools, and 20 elementary schools. Schools are selected to be part of the Zone based on low academic performance for the previous three years, low performance across feeder patterns, and leadership capacity.  Demographically, 66% of students across the Zone schools are African-American, 30% Hispanic, 78% participate in the free and reduced price lunch program, and 17% are English language learners.  Other measures being implemented by Zone schools include:

  • Changing grade configuration and programs at school.
  • Implementing and aligning school-wide reform models with feeder schools.
  • Forming Community Assessment Teams.
  • Requiring all instructional staff to reapply for their positions.
  • Pay for Performance Plans.

Teachers are in Zone schools by choice. After negotiating with the teacher’s union, a 20% raise was awarded to teachers who spend more time in Zone schools because of the longer school day and year, intensive curriculum, and extra professional development.

Overall school performance grades have increased from D’s and F’s to C’s and B’s with some schools improving to a grade of A. According to Woodward, students in Zone schools outscored all students in the state in math by six points and showed improvements in writing scores. In addition, schools have shown improvements in attendance, a focal point of M-DCPS high school reform.

M-DCPS also offers alternative school options for students. The Highways to Success program is a transition program that presents an opportunity to improve and restructure educational pathways for students in M-DCPS by expanding the current district-operated alternative and adult education schools and programs. A student who is eligible may, with prior approval of the high school principal and acceptance into the adult education high school credit program, transfer a maximum of six credits from the adult education program to apply toward graduation requirements for a high school diploma. Also, programs are available for overage students in elementary, middle, and secondary school to assist students to graduate on-time. Fornell said, “We are changing the perception of our alternative schools so they are seen as a good option for students, not a dumping ground.”

Data is also used to develop greater accountability for student attendance. The district has an aggressive approach on absences. Initially, if a student is absent one or two days, the school works with the student on developing basic academic skills. After the third absence, a parent conference is held, or a social worker is sent to the student’s home. After the sixth absence, there is increased outreach to parents, and the school identifies community supports that could help the student and parents. If a student has 15 or more absences, the district provides various interventions that become more and more intensive to try to recoup the student and get him/her attending regularly. District policy also prevents students with ten or more absences from participating in competitive sports or other extra-curricular activities like band. If a student is arrested over the weekend, the student cannot participate in these activities. In addition, students need to maintain a 2.0 GPA to participate in activities. District officials say these policies are helping to increase student attendance.

Meeting with Michael Bell, Schools of Choice, M-DCPS

One of the areas that M-DCPS was interested in pursuing as part of high school reform was creating various options and choices, such as magnet schools, as an element of high school reform. M-DCPS already had a number of magnet schools that could offer lessons on how to structure and design small schools. Building on those experiences, the district realized that some of the magnets had the best architecture for bringing about the desired changes. For instance, the focus of magnet schools offered relevance to students, and many required senior capstone projects which highly engaged students.

Bell explained that it was important to meet with principals in the district to talk about high school reform and to ask their opinions on what should be done. Pairing their ideas with the research created buy-in from principals. The decision to create small, boutique magnet schools and special interest schools was made because of the need and demand for them. Even though magnet schools are very unique, they are all anchored in the six core principles of the High School Alliance.

Meeting with Dr. Ludy Lopez, Career Experience Opportunity (CEO) Internship program, M-DCPS

During either their junior or senior year, all students are given the opportunity to participate in the Career Experience Opportunity (CEO) internship.  This semester-long, honors credit internship was developed in order to provide students with a work related experience that is aligned to their Career Academy.  Special education and ESOL students are provided equal access to participate in the Career Academy of their choice as well as participate in the CEO internship program. During their junior year, all students are offered the Workplace Essentials course which is an elective designed to prepare students for their CEO internship experience. The courses offered in the Career Academies are developed to align to industry standards.

Advisory Boards for each Career Academy are being established in order to maintain high standards of integrity and rigor.  Additionally, the district has developed a website that allows businesses to post their internship opportunities as well as provide students with the ability to research potential internship experiences and schedule their interviews.

Students can decide to attend a career academy in a school outside of their attendance area if their neighborhood school does not offer the major area of interest electives they desire. Despite logistical concerns, M-DCPS is attempting to ensure that the type and variety of career academies are evenly placed across the six regions in the district in order to provide variety and choice for all students.

Lopez explained that it is important to evaluate how effective the Career Academy approach is for students. Currently, M-DCPS is developing an index to measure attendance and academic achievement, across all schools, including magnets.

Steve Gallon, Highways to Success Initiative, M-DCPS

The Highways to Success Initiative is focused on alternative education and is a district- wide process to identify, support, and monitor at-risk youth, begun in February 2007. As a result of the initiative, there has been an effort to reallocate funds to provide greater support to alternative education.

Some of the actions that the district has undertaken to increase alternative education options include:

  • Training teachers about the alternative education system and approach and adolescent literacy.
  • Creating single gender models and schools.
  • Adding career themes to alternative education.
  • Providing positive behavior supports.
  • Focusing on grades 6-12 as a continuum.
  • Providing adult and vocational enrollment options for students.
  • Developing community partnerships (schools are adopted by a business or faith-based organization).
  • Increased career exploration.

The district is also including a focus on early grades with its Higher Opportunities to Pursue Excellence (HOPE) Early Intervention Instructional Model. The focus is on third and fourth grade students who are behind grade level. This is a response to the growing numbers of overage elementary students. The HOPE project emphasizes literacy and has been started in six schools with a 1:7 teacher-to-student ratio.

Academic and Civic Support Centers have also been created for students that are not academically successful. The Centers are located in middle schools and provide accelerated credits. There are also secondary centers to help middle school students who are overage and under credit. M-DCPS also offers truancy schools and Jumpstart Academies for students who have recently left the juvenile justice system and are returning to high school.

Gallon said it is not enough to just create new programs, but rather the district needs to create a process to ensure that each student is supported all the way through the high school years.  One strategy is the early identification of struggling learners followed by the assignment of case managers to work with targeted schools to monitor student articulation, transition, and progress. “We want to be proactive, not reactive,” he said.

Students in alternative education are subject to the FCAT, but alterative education schools have the option of being graded or rated. If they are rated, they are judged on the rate of progress a student has made, not on grades, and so most of the alternative education schools opt to be rated, and they are able to show positive outcomes for students.

Jaime Torrens, Chief Facilities Officer, M-DCPS

The M-DCPS has a unique character, due to frequent hurricanes which, in 2005, closed schools for 11 days. Crew realized that losing that many days has a huge impact on the overall learning outcomes of the district and was supportive of developing policies and procedures to ensure that hurricanes or other disasters cause as little disruption to the learning process as possible. The goal is not just to be prepared, but to ensure that students remain engaged in educational activities when school is closed. In order to ensure that students know what to study if schools are closed, the district posts a two-week curriculum plan for all students on the district website.

Sixty schools throughout the district are designated as community hurricane shelters; the principal and two alternate principals for each school participate in a training session prior to every hurricane season.  During activation, the principal or alternate must be at the school for the entire time the shelter is open. The principals are responsible not only for the facility, but also for providing food, security and other essential services to the people in the shelter. The school system also provides transportation for disabled citizens throughout the county to and from shelters with their fleet of handicap-accessible busses.

Visit to Miami Edison Senior High School (MESHS)

Jean Teal, Principal

Miami Edison is one of a number of high schools in Miami that was intentionally built as a hurricane shelter and therefore has a design that is unusual for most high schools. The building has no exterior windows, but a central skylight illuminates common spaces and entryways. There are 1,200 students, 90% of them are African-American, with 65% of those being Haitian. The school consists of grades 10-12, with a ninth grade academy that serves as a feeder to the high school located across the courtyard from the main building. The school has approximately 18-20% special education students, while the average in the district is only 15%. The school has four career academies: Business and Finance, Communication and Digital Technology, Law Studies and Public Service, and Medicine and Health.

Teal is serving her third year as principal at Miami Edison. Teal was brought on to serve as the instructional leader of the school and to be a change agent, as MESHS was a low-performing high school that consistently received a grade of F on the FCAT. After three years, the school has moved up to a D grade and is only eight points away from a grade of C.

Teal organized a leadership team that consists of a wide range of teachers and administrators in the building to focus on improving student performance. The leadership team consists of chairs of the academic departments, the activities department chair, the testing coordinator, math and reading coaches from the high school and the ninth grade academy, and the heads of the English for Speakers of Other Languages, special education, and student services programs. This team meets on a regular basis and uses data to determine which students need extra assistance to improve performance. Teal said the focus is very intentional and consistent on finding instructional strategies to help all students succeed, and the culture of the school is that all students can do the work if they are given the appropriate supports. Guidance counselors for the high school are assigned to each career academy so that they work with the same group of students for three years.

The school district and the school track data carefully to inform their work. A visible sign of this was a large board in the entrance hall called the Attendance Board. Data was provided on student attendance for every day each week and by grade, so that trends in attendance are plainly visible. Elsewhere in the school, data on student performance was posted so that students and teachers had easy access to how they were doing. Students generally had a clear understanding of the work required to get a good grade in the class, and teachers were very explicit in making this information visible and accessible.

Visit to Miami Douglas MacArthur Senior High School, Academy for Young Men

David Moore, Principal

The Academy for Young Men is an alternative school in the Highways to Success Initiative. It was recently reconfigured to serve young men from grades 6-12, who have been unsuccessful in their regular schools. This school is an example of a small boutique school designed to meet the needs of a specific population. About 85% of the 175 students who attend are either court-involved or attend because of disciplinary problems at their home school. (M-DCPS also has a school for youth that are currently in the juvenile justice system.) About 33% of the population is in special education. As Moore said, “Students ‘earn’ the opportunity to come here for substance abuse, carrying weapons, truancy, or hitting a teacher.”

The academy houses three learning communities in three separate buildings on the former campus of a hospital that feels like a college or camp setting. The main building houses grades 10-12, with students in grades 7-9 and grade 6 in two other buildings. The school is heavily focused on providing intensive support to students to help them succeed. Moore said, “We live, eat, and breathe the students, not the FCAT here.”

Class size is small, with only about 12 students, and usually more than one adult in each classroom. Students come to and leave the school on a frequent basis, and the average length of stay is about one semester, at which time students can choose to go back to their home school, or stay.

Students are assessed on a bi-weekly basis to determine what their learning benchmarks should be, and these learning benchmarks are integrated across the curriculum. The school offers occupational programs in automotive service, culinary arts, and other electives, but is not completely organized in career academies because it is difficult to offer a very structured curriculum with students moving in and out on a semester or yearly basis. Teachers work with students to develop independent learning skills, so they are successful when the reenroll in a traditional setting.

Service learning is a major focus of the campus and classroom curriculum is combined with community services. Students at the academy provide services to the physically and mentally disabled, adults in day care, and developmentally-delayed toddlers located on the campus. The strategy of having at-risk youth work with underserved populations has been very successful, and students develop a positive feeling about being able to give something back to their community.

Funding for the academy is provided based on peak enrollment, so if the school enrolls up to 250 students at any point in the year, funding will be based on that count. Moore said that Superintendent Crew wanted to develop a Code of Student Conduct that recognizes and rewards good students and good behaviors, not just bad behavior, so they rewrote the entire code to have a more positive focus.

Visit to Robert Morgan Educational Center

Greg Zawyer, Principal

The visit to Robert Morgan Educational Center showcased the wide range of options available in the M-DCPS. Whereas the Young Men’s Academy was small, youth-centered, with a strong focus on community service and service learning, Robert Morgan is a full-service high school with 2,200 high school students and offers over 25 postsecondary occupational training programs to adults. The campus is over 60 acres with multiple buildings and one campus for students and one for adults. Occupational programs include health, nursing, and dental technicians, automotive service, culinary arts, and construction, as well as two NAF academies in Finance and Travel and Tourism. The school has also been a partner in the High Schools That Works reform network, and they also offer Tech Prep articulation with Miami-Dade Community College (M-DCC). Students can earn college credit for the classes they take in high school if they take at least one class at M-DCC in their major area. The school has over 60 partnerships with employers and postsecondary education institutions. The school also offers 21 Advanced Placement classes.

Robert Morgan is a magnet school because it offers specialized career programs, and therefore students from across the district apply. In the last year, almost 3,000 students applied online for 600 freshmen slots, so the school uses a random lottery to select its student body.


Participants in the field trip were extremely impressed by the comprehensive data system that M-DCPS had developed and the way it was used by all the stakeholders to drive decision-making. The accessibility of the data and ease of use was also noted by many participants. Several participants wanted to learn more about how states could support the development of such systems and how to encourage broad use of such data systems.

Participants were impressed by the focus on career academies as a key part of the high school reform plan, but raised questions about how to balance the focus on CTE in a system that is based on high stakes testing. Also, participants were curious to learn more about how CTE curricula is integrated into the basic skills curricula so that students master the basic skills while also getting the benefits of career-focused classes.

All participants expressed support for the intensive focus on the low-performing schools through the School Improvement Zone Initiative and thought the individualized approach made sense. Questions were raised about how the district will be able to keep their efforts going, especially when funding for the School Improvement Zone is ending.

  • Participants were also extremely impressed by the vision of reform espoused by Dr. Crew and how he worked with stakeholders to bring it about:

I learned from this trip that unless we get the buy-in from the entire school (including staff, students and parents), change the way teachers teach at the fundamental level and empower the schools to continuously monitor and make modifications themselves, the reform will not be successful nor will it be sustainable.  In addition, at the district level, we need a comprehensive, phase-in implementation plan that clearly maps out how we plan to go from where we are to where we want to be in three or five years.

I was totally bowled over by the clarity of his vision and the acknowledgement that redesign is more than a pedagogical problem but requires engineering of the school system and pacing of the roll out.  His experience in other school systems seems to have led him to this measured approach of working through the chunks of school and district reform.  The most interesting part was the smart, articulate people who work for him who all espoused a common vision.


Along with:




Key Contacts:

Dr. Lillian Finn

Director of Secondary Reform
Florida Department of Education
K-12 Chancellor’s Office
325 West Gaines Street, Suite 514
Tallahassee, Florida  32399
Phone:  850-245-05-9

Dr. Rudolph F. “Rudy” Crew

Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone: 305-995-1450

Office of the Superintendent:

Dr. Geneva Woodard

Associate Superintendent
School Improvement Zone
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone:  305-995-1850

Alberto Carvalho

Associate Superintendent
Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Grants, Marketing, and Community Services
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone:  305-995-2532

Dr. Kamela Patton

Assistant Superintendent
Special Projects
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone:  305-995-1206

Michael J. Bell

Assistant Superintendent
Specialized Programs, Curriculum & Instruction
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone:  305-995-7260

Milagros Fornell

Assistant Superintendent
Secondary Education, Curriculum and Instruction
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone:  305-995-2011

Debbie Karcher

Chief Information Officer
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone: 305-995-3751

Dr. Ludy Lopez

Career Experience Opportunity Internship Program
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone:  305-995-1450

Jaime Torrens

Chief Facilities Officer
Office of School Facilities
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone:  305-995-1401

Steve Gallon, III

Highways to Success Initiative
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
1450 NE Second Avenue
Miami, Florida  33132
Phone:  305-995-1727

Dr. Jean Teal

Miami Edison Senior High School
6161 NW 5th Ct.
Miami, Florida  33127
Phone:  305-751-7337

Dr. David Moore

Miami Douglas MacArthur South Senior High School
11035 SW 84th Street
Miami, Florida  33173
Phone:  305-279-5422

Dr. Greg Zawyer

Robert Morgan Educational Center
18180 Southwest 122nd Avenue
Miami, Florida  33177
Phone:  305-259-1495

The Smaller Learning Communities (SLC) program awards discretionary grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) to support the implementation of SLCs and activities to improve student academic achievement in large public high schools with enrollments of 1,000 or more students.

The National High School Alliance (HS Alliance) is a growing partnership of fifty organizations representing a diverse cross-section of perspectives and approaches, but sharing a common commitment to fostering high academic achievement, closing the achievement gap, and promoting civic and personal growth among all youth in our high schools and communities.


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels.

AYPF’s events and policy reports are made possible by the support of a consortium of philanthropic foundations: Carnegie Corporation of New York, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WT Grant Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, and others.


Top 10 Accomplishments, Dr. Rudy Crew, Miami-Dade Public Schools»

It’s a Major Opportunity, Dr. Lillian Finn, Florida Department of Education»


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.