On his first day as Miami’s new superintendent, José Dotres plans to take a “temperature check” of the district.
He hopes to gain insight about the programs it has to address any learning losses or setbacks exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic; the structures it has in place to support teachers and educators; and the mechanisms it developed to support students who may be struggling with their mental health.
“On the first day, [I would have] a very important conversation with school leadership and the regional superintendent to really recalibrate where we are as a district,” Dotres, 59, told the Herald in an interview Tuesday.
On Monday, after a more than eight-hour meeting, the Miami-Dade School Board voted 6-3 to hire him as the superintendent to replace Alberto Carvalho, who is leaving Feb. 3 to head the Los Angeles Unified School District. Board members Marta Pérez, Christi Fraga and Lubby Navarro voted for Jacob Oliva, the senior chancellor in the Florida Department of Education. None of the board members voted for the third finalist, Rafaela Espinal, a longtime educator with the New York City Department of Education. The board interviewed each candidate for about two hours.
The start date of Dotres, the deputy superintendent of Collier County Public Schools, has yet to be finalized.
Dotres is realistic in his endeavor, acknowledging many conversations will occur over time. Still, he said, one of the more important aspects of his new role will be to gain “a deep understanding of how [the district is] responding and identifying students with social-emotional concerns.”
Board members who favored Dotres’ superintendency highlighted his proven leadership, longstanding relationships within the district and his ability to offer a sense of continuity and a smooth transition. Supporters of Oliva, however, questioned Dotres’ long-term commitment to lead the district, given his enrollment in DROP, deferred retirement option program, and his decision to live in Broward County, not Miami-Dade.
Dotres on Monday told the board his superintendency isn’t about were he lives, but “about what I’m doing for kids.” Some board members said that living in Miami-Dade County should be a clause in his contract.
What the community wants
Dotres, 59, served as a principal, regional superintendent and chief human capital officer, where he oversaw teacher and leader development, recruitment and labor relations. He arrived from Cuba at age 5 with his family, attended kindergarten at Citrus Grove Elementary and, later, graduated from Miami Senior High School.
Despite his decades of experience in the district, it’ll be Dotres’ first time at its helm. And as superintendent, he’ll have to earn the respect and trust of the community.
That effort should start with conducting a “complete audit of the school system,” said Larry Williams, chairman of the board of ICARE, Inner City Alumni for Responsible Education. Dotres, he said, must assess where the shortages are, if any, and where the district’s assets stand. (Williams was a vocal critic of the rushed search process.)
“Until he proves me otherwise, I think [Dotres] will be more of a puppet-type superintendent, where the board dictates what they want,” Williams said Tuesday. Dotres should also address the district’s digital divide, update the curriculum and bring “some kind of equality to Black contractors” for projects, he added.
Others, such as Esteban Wood, hope Dotres will “lead with bold action” when addressing teacher pay and personnel shortages and language equity and accessibility issues for district parents. Moreover, Dotres must work to ensure community organizations are able to work collaboratively with the district, said Wood, the policy and civic engagement lead at WeCount!, a nonprofit organization that works on behalf of low-wage immigrant workers and families, including those in the district.
For his part, Dotres said he’s committed to engaging with and learning from community organizations that work alongside the district, and acknowledged some groups’ frustration with the superintendent search.
Throughout the process, community members critiqued the board’s handling of the search process, citing a perceived lack of transparency. Some even said the board already had a favored candidate — Dotres — in mind from the start.
“I can’t control [the process],” he said. “But I can connect with them so they can get to know me, and I plan to do that. I owe it to them.”
Will Dotres stand up to politics?
Miami-Dade schools in the last two years has been at the center of ongoing battles with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Department of Education over mask mandates — and Carvalho has been the face of it all.
The outgoing superintendent has mostly removed himself from discussions regarding his successor, though he has stressed the importance of appointing someone who will stand up to political influences. Others, including Williams, of ICARE, said the next leader should be able to stand up to the School Board when necessary.
Dotres said he’s capable of doing both.
As a principal, he made decisions he deemed best for students and teachers, even if it parted from others’ beliefs; as a regional superintendent, there were many “opportunities to stand up to do what’s right for [my] region,” he said.
“I stand firm in making sure that the decisions I make are grounded in what will move students forward and decisions that are supportive of what teachers need in order for teaching and learning to be optimal,” he said.
Supporting students and teachers in his hometown is what drew Dotres to apply: “Coming back to my hometown, to help children who reflect who I was and supporting school leaders and teachers…is highly important for me.”
This story was originally published January 25, 2022 10:07 PM.