“Doral schools are fantastic,” Dr. José L. Dotres
By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
Since February 14, Dr. Jose Dotres took on his new role as Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent, replacing Alberto Carvalho. Taking advantage of his first visit to Doral on April 7, Doral Family Journal decided to talk to him about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for our district. This is what he told us.
Doral Family Journal: The two priorities of the school district are to reduce the achievement gap and improve the students’ mental health. What challenges have you been able to find on these two fronts and what steps have been taken?
Dr. Dotres: Many students have missed instructional time and have fallen behind academically. Therefore, the main challenge is to accelerate learning. To accomplish this, we are incorporating additional instructional time before and after school, and we opened a spring academy in which 155 schools from the district participated.
We also had a meeting with 81 principals of the most vulnerable schools in the district to inquire about the progress of their students. We have noticed that there is a progress in the area of ??math but we are concerned about reading, as students have become more used to learning through electronic devices. For this reason, we are now focusing on strengthening reading skills.
Regarding mental health, we have had isolated cases of violence within schools and the only way to work around this is for us to begin seeing each student in a wholesome way, contemplating not only their academic performance but also their socio-emotional profile, this is the direction that the education should take from now on.
In order to support students in their social-emotional needs we have added new administrative roles.
DFJ: What new roles will be included within schools considering that most families don’t have access to mental health services, and sometimes they don’t know how to deal with their children’s struggles?
Dr. Dotres: We will have three key job positions. The position of student counselor will be kept but we will also include mental health specialists, and we are adding a new role to each school called School-Student Support Specialist.
Those who take on this role have experience in social work and other mental health areas, for which they will serve as a link between the counselor and the mental health specialist.
It should be remembered that in order to help children, we need to work together with their families, we cannot do the job alone. Parents requiring support can call 305-995-7100 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 305-995-1000.
DFJ: Many are concerned about bullying since it is well known that if anxiety and depression levels increase, cases of harassment and violence also do so. What is being done to address this problem?
Dr. Dotres: We are talking with students and principals to create a positive culture within schools so that children feel comfortable while they are learning. It is essential for schools to have a welcoming atmosphere, that personal respect is fostered and that lessons are given on what good treatment between classmates looks like.
In addition, we are placing great emphasis on each child having a sense of belonging within school, because we know that as the culture changes, fewer acts of violence are committed.
Something very important to note is that children must lose their fear of speaking up. If someone feels they are being abused, parents need to communicate this to the school and sometimes that doesn’t happen. Also, it’s key teaching children to raise their voices if they witness something.
DFJ: How do you see the educational community of Doral?
Dr. Dotres: Doral is known for prioritizing education because its members are always working to help schools produce results and to be beneficial for the community. For this reason, performance is quite high, although, as in other municipalities, we must continue working on the socio-emotional health of students.
There is a high interest in that Doral schools, which I must say are fantastic, have more specialized academies and innovation to retain students, as well as accelerated learning programs.
DJF: What are the school board goals?
Dr. Dotres: First of all, accelerate student learning. It must be understood that this cannot be achieved overnight, since it is necessary to truly support and train teachers on how to make this happen.
To improve academic achievement, the school board will focus on working individually with each ethnic group such as the Latino, American, or African American populations.
A second goal will be the recruitment of teachers, taking into account that the pandemic brought us significant losses both nationally and locally. In our district, we have to work not only on salaries but also on creating conditions so that educators feel confident and that they can grow in their careers, we are giving a lot of attention to those matters.