After 14 years of leading Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Friday is Alberto Carvalho’s last day on the job as superintendent.
He’s wrapping up his tenure by visiting schools, saying goodbyes, reflecting on his team’s legacy, and Thursday, recognizing the incredibly arduous path to success of disadvantaged students.
“It’s beautiful, it’s amazing, thank you,” Jassmin Barrientos said through tears as she sat behind the wheel of a new car.
Her new car.
Jassmin is a senior at Miami Lakes Educational Center. She and four other students had no idea why they were taken to the school district building Thursday. They were singled out because they are each succeeding academically despite facing tremendous obstacles, from extreme poverty to homelessness.
“So we’re talking about very high achieving individuals who face circumstances and challenges the likes of which no child should ever have to confront,” Carvalho said, surrounded by the five students.
Four of them received $1,000 checks. Jassmin received a free, three-year lease on a 2022 Toyota Corolla from Toyota of North Miami.
Jassmin lives at a friend’s house, she works until 10 p.m. every night, yet she’s college-bound and the student government president at her school. She was emotionally overwhelmed by the gift.
“It’s been hard and I Uber every day to work and everywhere I go and it’s really difficult,” Jassmin said. “I want to go to college and I want to graduate for my sisters because I want them to see that they can do it.”
Carvalho went from honoring students to being honored himself. Miami Heat legend Alonzo Mourning, who has a high school named after him in North Miami, presented Carvalho with a personalized Heat jersey.
As he leaves to become superintendent in Los Angeles, Carvalho says he’s most proud of raising student achievement here, lifting the graduation rate to 94%, and earning an “A” rating for the district.
“We put Miami on the map and now everybody looks to Miami as the example to replicate, they want to know how we did it because they want to replicate this level of success,” Carvalho said. “Our diversity is our strength and that is what I will miss the most but above all, I will miss the kids.”
Especially the disadvantaged kids, the ones who remind him of himself. Carvalho was once homeless as a young man, newly arrived in the United States from Portugal.
“Homeless, immigrant, poor, putting herself through school, taking care of her two younger siblings, and making an example for all of us,” Carvalho said, sitting next to Jassmin in the car.