Movers and shakers

Before heading to board meeting, Miami supe Alberto Carvalho speaks out — but not about his anticipated move to New York

PHOTO: Knight Foundation/Flickr

Update: Carvalho turned down the job in dramatic fashion on Thursday. More here

Hours before an emergency meeting where Alberto Carvalho was expected to let his school board know he’ll be New York City’s next schools chief, the Miami-Dade superintendent was weighing in on the day’s pressing policy questions.

“I want to take advantage of this opportunity to scream out to Tallahassee and to Washington D.C., and to demand what’s fair for our teachers: More pay, more security in schools,” Carvalho said in an interview with Miami’s CBS4. “Don’t abuse them emotionally or intellectually by demanding that they carry arms into schools.”

Carvalho was speaking outside iPrep, the Miami high school where he has been principal even while running the country’s fourth-largest school system. There, he shook hands with students he’s known for years and gave out interview after interview about his anticipated departure, which comes after a decade at the helm in Miami and an entire career working in its schools.

Today, I woke up to 500 text messages,” he said. “I don’t even know where to start, other than to say, thank you, thank you, thank you. I love Miami.”

But Carvalho was cagey about confirming that he would actually be making the move — even as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has already welcomed him warmly. That confirmation is expected at the 10 a.m. school board meeting, which will be streamed online here.

We’ll have updates all day.  

Here’s what Carvalho was saying this morning:

From CBS4: “I wanted to start my day as I always do, at a school, connecting with kids and connecting with teachers and parents. Look, for me, today is a regular school day. That’s why I’m here early this morning, to do my job. But at the same time, I want to take advantage of this opportunity to scream out to Tallahassee and to Washington D.C., and to demand what’s fair for our teachers. More pay, more security in schools. Don’t abuse them emotionally or intellectually by demanding that they carry arms into schools. Let’s honor them. Let’s value education, let’s fund education. So, I’m going to continue to do my job today as I’ve always done, being a loud voice for teacher sand the comm. And above all, I love Miami. This has been my home for many years. I have honored this community. Today, I woke up to 500 text messages. I don’t even know where to start, other than to say, thank you, thank you, thank you. I love Miami.”

From WSVN: “We as a community, as parents, as citizens of this state, we ought to question a lot about Florida. Whether or not we should be arming teachers with anything other than great resources and inspiration. Whether or not we should be doing more to secure schools; honoring teachers with higher salaries. And that’s exactly the kind of thing I want to talk about a 10 o’clock in the morning.”

From WPLG (ABC): “I feel like crying myself right now. But we have to do a lot of work in this state to value education, to value teachers. To stop the insanity. That’s what I hope to talk about at 10 o’clock in the morning. I’m the least of this equation. What’s important is these kids and these teachers.”

First Person

I covered Alberto Carvalho in Miami. Here’s why I’m not surprised he snubbed New York City.

Cavalho talks to Miami's school board chair during a break in the stunning meeting Thursday.

To kick off each school year, Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho gathers the district’s principals and his top education officials for a dramatic motivational show.

With slick visuals, live student performances, and moody stage lighting, Carvalho lays out his vision for the year ahead in an event that feels part TED Talk, part Broadway production. The yearly spectacle is an example of Carvalho in his element: In the spotlight, building excitement, and confidently selling his message — in multiple languages.

This week, Carvalho’s over-the-top flair was broadcast for all of New York City to experience. And after spending years reporting on Carvalho and the Miami-Dade County school system, I can’t say I was surprised by the marathon board meeting or his eventual snub of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

I was more shocked that he had seriously considered leaving in the first place.

Those outside of Florida don’t realize how good Carvalho has it in his adopted hometown, and how much he would be giving up if he left. After Carvalho finally made his big reveal, an education insider there told me: “Here in Miami, he is the king.”

Hyperbole, maybe. But that sentiment was certainly on display as students, business leaders, and the school board begged Carvalho — for hours, on live television — to stay.

In his almost three decades working in South Florida’s political ecosystem, and the country’s fourth-largest school district, Carvalho has masterfully cultivated political popularity and power. Carvalho reports to Miami’s elected school board, but he has deftly handled his relationship with its members for most of his tenure so that they almost always approve his agenda unanimously. When he was rumored to be a contender to lead Los Angeles schools — the second-largest district in the country — I watched the board prematurely open his contract and give him a raise.

That unity has eroded a bit after the last election, which ushered in some more independent members, and perhaps pushed Carvalho to flirt with decamping for New York City. Still, as the theatrics came to a climax on Thursday, his board hastily called for a symbolic vote of confidence in Carvalho. Every official present voted in favor.

On television, the vote looked strange. In Miami, it probably seemed normal.

In New York City, by contrast, the star superintendent would have had to start building that personal and political following from scratch — and play second fiddle to a mayor with his own national ambitions. Politico Florida pointed out on Friday that Carvalho would have to work with a chief of staff picked by the mayor. That was never going to sit well with Carvalho, who is used to being completely in command. “Mayoral control” is a very different thing.

In his brief introduction to New York City, Carvalho was already under a kind of scrutiny he rarely receives back home. As the theatrics unfolded, the media were quick to comment on Carvalho’s showmanship — and the criticism only grew sharper as the day continued.

“If Carvalho had taken the job he would have been chewed up by an NYC press corps that spits out pompous self promoters like phlegm,” one City Hall reporter tweeted.

In New York, the narrative he has built around the climb of Miami-Dade schools, and his own leadership, was likely to meet a far more skeptical audience. Already, there are cracks that could be easily pried open: his plan to eliminate out-of-school suspensions seems to have fallen short of his lofty promises, for example. And contrary to claims that achievement gaps closed substantially under Carvalho’s watch, wide disparities by students’ race and economic status persisted — in some cases shrinking, others growing, and still others holding steady.

In New York, when it finally became apparent he was breaking up with the city before even beginning his relationship here, jaws dropped and Carvalho’s future job prospects were declared dead. While it’s true that Thursday’s spectacle could be an albatross if Carvalho sets his sights elsewhere, it’s not clear to me that he’ll want to.

In Miami, Thursday’s decision branded him a hero who followed his heart and picked his longtime community over prestige. It’s easy to see how that would could play well in any bid for a higher position within the community that lobbied hard to keep him.

As a Florida native who has transplanted here, I know it’s hard for New Yorkers to accept that Carvalho could be truly happy to reign over the Sunshine State. But I’d like to make a shameless plug for my birthplace and all its wacky beauty.

It’s been years since Florida surpassed New York to become the third-most populous state in the country, and its national clout is real. And Miami itself is the kind of place that gets under your skin. Have you guys tried cafecito? (While we’re on it, where can I find some of that sugary, highly caffeinated Cuban coffee in Manhattan? I’m desperate!)

Maybe I’m just projecting here, but it feels sincere when Carvalho professes his love for the place, as he is wont to do on Twitter. After commuting in a nor’easter today, I can’t say I blame him.

the wood

The big loser in the Carvalho chaos, according to New York City papers: Bill de Blasio

It’s not every day that education news makes the cover of New York City’s local papers.

But that’s what happened today, the morning after Miami’s star superintendent shocked the city — and country — by turning down the schools chancellor job on live TV. Read all our coverage.

The New York Daily News and New York Post both used their legendary front pages to process the surprising news, with covers that mock Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Post’s front page is less nuanced. It shows de Blasio in a bridal gown, sitting dejected on an altar. “Jilted!” the main headline reads.

The Daily News cover features a chastened de Blasio at a chalkboard — emblazoned with Carvalho’s winning grin — writing the words “I will not get ahead of myself” repeatedly. The implication is that the mayor botched the chancellor search by letting news of Carvalho’s selection reach the public before Carvalho was ready to commit — although the Miami superintendent said himself on Thursday that he had agreed to take the job.

Some New Yorkers stood up for the mayor on social media, accusing the papers of being ungenerous. Here’s one reaction on Twitter to the Daily News cover:

The Daily News offered a more sympathetic take in an editorial cartoon by Bill Bramhall, which shows de Blasio being burned by an exploded torpedo named Carvalho. The suggestion is that Carvalho was the destructive force on Thursday, not the mayor — and that de Blasio is suffering as a result, but presumably protected others around him, including the 1.1 million children who attend city schools, from extensive damage.