JOCELYN GECKER and TERRY SPENCER / Associated Press
The Los Angeles Board of Education has elected the longtime headmaster of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools as the next headmaster of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country, officials said Thursday.
The board announced the appointment of Alberto Carvalho after a unanimous vote on Thursday when Carvalho held a live press conference in Florida describing his career path as a “story that could only be told in America”.
One admired and experienced educator, Carvalho, 57, is credited with improving graduation rates and academic performance in Miami-Dade, the fourth largest public K-12 school district in the country, during a long, stable tenure that began in 2008 in Los Angeles and Miami-Dade, both large neighborhoods, Carvalho grew up in poverty. He came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant, he said. He moved first to New York City and then to Miami.
“I am the poor child from Portugal whose first job in this country was washing dishes, the second as a day laborer,” said Carvalho. On the way to Thursday’s press conference, Carvalho said he drove through a neighborhood in Miami where he was homeless 30 years ago.
“My world changed when I became a teacher,” said Carvalho. “I still have the feeling that this trip is a fairy tale.”
Carvalho attended Broward Community College and graduated from Barry University, a small Catholic school near Miami, with a degree in biology in 1990. He became a high school science and math teacher before quickly rising to the board of directors and becoming principal before moving to the district office where he was district spokesman and assistant superintendent before becoming superintendent in 2008.
In 2014 he was named Superintendent of the Year by the National Superintendents Association. In 2018, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio named him Chancellor of Education for the country’s largest school district, but Carvalho stepped back from the deal the next day. He said Thursday that New York’s lure was that he got there in the United States, but it quickly turned out that it didn’t contain all of the elements necessary for him to be successful. He didn’t elaborate on it.
Carvalho said Thursday he was proud of his time in Miami. He said that by the time he assumed the office of principal, the graduation rate was 58% and dozen of schools received D and F grades from the state. The state threatened to close nine inner-city schools. The district states that its current graduation rate is 93% and that there are no D or F schools.
“Alberto Carvalho brings the deep experience we need as an educator and leader of a major borough to manage LA Unified’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its recovery,” said CEO Kelly Gonez in a statement. “As the longtime Superintendent of Miami-Dade, he has drawn up a clear record of positive study results and worked tirelessly towards greater justice for historically underserved communities. I know he will continue that focus in Los Angeles and he is ready for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. “
The school board said it voted unanimously to elect Carvalho as the next headmaster but has yet to finalize his contract, which will be voted on December 14th.
In Los Angeles, Carvalho will succeed Austin Beutner, who stepped down as superintendent at the end of his three-year contract in June after guiding the school system through the early stages of the pandemic and a full year of distance learning while all schools closed to face-to-face teaching.
Since Beutner’s departure, the district has been headed by Interim Superintendent Megan Reilly.
Carvalho arrives in Los Angeles at a critical moment as the district, which serves approximately 600,000 students, is overflowing with state and federal COVID-19 aid funds but is still grappling with the effects of the pandemic, including learning losses and declining enrollment.
Carvalho and several other Florida superintendents have argued with Governor Ron DeSantis this year over their imposition of mask mandates to combat the then rapid spread of COVID-19 in the state. DeSantis banned mandates through its education officer, saying it should be left up to parents. He cut funding for some districts that opposed him.
But Carvalho and others refused to give in, saying masks protected students, teachers and staff. Carvalho dropped Miami-Dade’s mandate last month as the state’s infection rate plummeted and a judge upheld DeSantis ‘authority to allow parents to rule on their students’ behalf.
Mask requirements remain in place in all California public schools, and Carvalho will be arriving in Los Angeles as the school district becomes one of the first in California to put student vaccinations into effect for all children 12 and older in mid-January.
Carvalho said that when he arrives in Los Angeles, he plans to spend some time learning about the district and its culture.
“Of course I’ll bring my personal philosophy to the table, but at the same time I’ll be listening carefully to the culture, traditions and practices of Los Angeles,” he said.
Spencer contributed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.