Kymari Gilbert is part of a turnaround. The 17-year-old's alma mater, Miami Northwestern High, is gaining ground when it comes to improving academic achievement.
"The whole mood about the whole school changed to 'okay, I'm gonna be serious about this, serious about coming to class,'" he said.
Miami-Dade has major gaps to close when it comes to academic achievement among white, black, and Hispanic students. The latest district-wide data on reading levels in grades 3-10 shows white students measure a proficiency of 78 percent, Hispanics 62 percent, and black students 44 percent.
In math for the same grade levels, the proficiency levels are 83 percent for whites, 69 percent for Hispanics, 53 percent for blacks.
"The difference isn't based necessarily, or at all on race itself," said Nikolai Vitti, the Miami-Dade school district’s assistant superintendent for Education Transformation. "It's based on exposure to information and knowledge, and often that has to do with social economics, it has to do with the educational background of a parent."
It's Vitti's job to help steer Northwestern in a new direction. The school is home to a majority African-American student body. Most students come from low-income families, and they receive free or reduced price lunch. Vitti says success is about changing priorities.
"The culture is that every ninth grader that comes to Northwestern is gonna go to college, not just graduate from high school, but they’re gonna go to college," said Vitti.
Teachers focus on what Vitti calls "bell to bell" instruction - teaching the entire period of class.
It's part of how graduation rates at the high school have jumped 14 percent in three years, Vitti said. The state ranked the school as an "F" in 2009. Two years later, it earned a B. 81 percent of students now graduate.
Gilbert says the excitement used to just be about athletic achievements, like Northwestern's success on the football field.
"Everybody’s talking about going to college now," said Gilbert. "They’re not just, 'oh I’m just gonna graduate, get a job, whatever.' They want to go to college.”
College acceptance letters cover walls like never before. Northwestern has a school graduation coach, Saturday classes for students and their parents, plus a focus on immediate intervention if a student starts failing.
"When that red flag goes up, there's a person or system in place to put them back on track," said Vitti.
It's part of why Northwestern is an example for educators who visit from around the country, he added. "We are proving that our kids can graduate from high school and go on to college despite the obstacles that exist, if the right systems are in place."
Gilbert has his sights set even beyond college. He wants to earn a doctorate degree and become a physical therapist.