He is now the leader of the nation’s fourth largest school district, and even though he has spent decades working in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Dr. Jose Dotres is mostly an unknown commodity to the public.
“I’ve always taken a stand on what I need to do on behalf of kids,” Dotres said Tuesday in an interview conducted at Miami Senior High School, his alma mater.
Dotres visited classrooms and appeared to feel right at home at the school from which he graduated in 1980. Since then, he’s been a teacher, a principal, a regional superintendent, the chief academic officer of Broward County Public Schools, an assistant superintendent of Collier County Public Schools, and chief of staff to former superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Now, Dotres says, he’s ready to take the reigns.
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“When you’re part of a community, when you live in a community and then you take up a role of leadership in a school district, I think you care more, you have a passion, and you’re more accountable to what happens because you’re part of a community,” Dotres said. “But I stand firm on what’s right for kids, what’s right for teachers.”
He learned a lot during his time working with Carvalho, saying there was a relentless drive to improve the district which will continue under his stewardship.
“It was always a journey of continuous improvement, every year, we did more,” Dotres said.
In his first three weeks on the job, Dotres says he met with staff from the 81 most academically fragile schools, determined through data, and says his first priority is getting students over the pandemic hump of learning losses and mental health issues.
“And we know where the needs are, we have had to increase our resources and supports to those schools, that’s why this constant look at performance and progress monitoring of students is really important, especially now,” Dotres said. “So I think we’re entering a teaching and learning landscape where academics, correlated with where students are emotionally is more important than ever, and that’s basically the focus of what I’ve tried to do since I got here.”
About 150 schools will be open during spring break week to provide additional academic support.
Dotres says he’s worried the state legislature is passing bills which put pressure on classrooms, and may discourage young people from becoming teachers.
“I’m concerned that some of these bills will have not only a negative impact on the students but also on how potential future candidates for teachers view the profession, and we need teachers right now more than ever,” said Dotres.
He’s also concerned that if the legislature decides to punish school districts which mandated masks against the state’s orders, it would cost his district $72 million, which he says would directly impact special education, advanced academics, and after-school programs.
Dotres also said along with everyone else, students are watching what’s happening in Ukraine, so schools are providing teachers with resources to discuss the situation in their classes, and the district is ready to receive Ukrainian refugees.
“The school district has a track record of receiving students from many different countries so we know what to do, we’re ready with our arms open to receive them and assist them,” Dotres said.
The district will accelerate registration and provide refugee families with support services when they arrive.