The Carvalho Show Played Much Better in the Miami Superintendent’s Hometown Than in New York City, Where Residents Panned the Man Who Wouldn’t Be Chancellor

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks during a school board meeting where he announced that he will turn down a job offer to become head of the New York City schools on March 1, 2018 in Miami. (Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

When Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho reversed course at the 11th hour Thursday and shot down an offer to become New York City’s next schools chancellor — in a captivating, televised display of political theater — the reactions from two cities couldn’t have been more polarized.

The outcry from New Yorkers was overwhelmingly negative, including from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said Friday morning that he was “blindsided” by Carvalho’s apparent flip-flop. In Miami, however, residents gave a sigh of relief over Carvalho’s surprise decision to stay in the position he’s held for about a decade.

One of them was Enid Weisman, mayor of nearby Aventura, who, as a Miami-Dade schools administrator, hired Carvalho for his first teaching job at Miami Jackson Senior High School about three decades ago.

“The children in Miami-Dade County are the luckiest children. They come out the winners,” Weisman said. She attended Thursday’s board meeting in Miami and acknowledged that Carvalho’s last-minute decision to stay came with significant personal risk. “We’ll never know because it didn’t happen, but if he were able to do what he did here in New York, New York would be as happy as Dade County,” she said.

Leading up to the announcement, de Blasio made clear that he wanted a new chancellor who would follow in Carmen Fariña’s footsteps. Weisman — who has spoken to Carvalho several times since the meeting — speculated that Carvalho worried he wouldn’t be given “a free hand to be able to do the kinds of reforms that would be necessary.”

Weisman said she thinks Carvalho regrets the decision to accept de Blasio’s offer before changing his mind. “I think he will remain very conflicted about that,” she said.

In a televised “emergency” school board meeting Thursday that’s been widely mocked as “The Carvalho Show,” the Miami-Dade superintendent was expected by many to announce his departure for the top New York City schools job. But instead, members of the Miami community begged Carvalho — over the course of more than three hours — to stay put. School board members offered the superintendent a unanimous “vote of confidence.” Audience members chanted, “Please don’t go.” A student at iPreparatory Academy, a magnet school Carvalho founded and serves as principal, gave the superintendent a hug. Even rapper Luther Campbell showed up to offer Carvalho some encouragement, calling his potential move a travesty.

After delivering a passionate speech that reflected on his time in Miami, Carvalho requested two highly unusual recesses before announcing he would break a promise with the New York mayor and stay in Florida, prompting a boisterous standing ovation. The night before the school board meeting, Carvalho said during the gathering, he was inundated by hundreds of text messages and voicemails encouraging him to stay. Ultimately, he attributed the change of heart to conversations he had with two undocumented students, who said their futures were uncertain without him.

The very public diss to New York put de Blasio in a tight spot. On Wednesday evening, de Blasio announced he had found “a world-class educator with an unmatched track record of success” to replace Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who has held the job for four years. With more than 1 million students, New York has the largest and highest-profile public school system in the country. Although de Blasio maintains Carvalho accepted the chancellor job more than a week ago, a Miami-Dade spokesman told The 74 he was offered the job but hadn’t yet accepted — raising speculation that someone was lying. During the meeting, Carvalho acknowledged that he’d broken an agreement with New York officials but said, “I just don’t know how to break a promise to a child, how to break a promise to a community.”

Weisman said the precise truth may be difficult to ascertain. “I don’t know that anyone other than de Blasio and Alberto will know exactly what was said,” she said.

The sharp-dressed superintendent, who has a knack for eloquent public speeches and attracting media attention, is remarkably well-liked in Miami. Rumors have long percolated about whether he plans to run for higher office, though pundits in both New York and Florida predict he’ll take a political hit for Thursday’s flip.

In an op-ed on Thursday afternoon, Campbell, the rapper, wrote that Miami is “damn lucky” Carvalho decided to snub New York. During his tenure, Miami-Dade schools have seen drastic gains on state tests, and the district graduation rate has spiked more than 20 percent. In 2012, Carvalho encouraged taxpayers to approve a $1.2 billion bond to fund school maintenance projects. More recently, Carvalho has sparred with state lawmakers over a new law that requires public school districts to share tax dollars earmarked for school construction with local charter school operators. An immigrant and fierce advocate for Miami’s undocumented students, Carvalho has also taken shots at President Donald Trump over immigration policy.

“Had Carvalho chosen to leave, it would have been the saddest moment in the history of Miami-Dade County Public Schools,” wrote Campbell. “The superintendent has done a phenomenal job making the nation’s fourth-largest school district a model for public education without the baggage his predecessors carried.”

Campbell outlined several scandals that had riled previous Miami-Dade superintendents, including former superintendent Rudy Crew who, coincidentally, was New York City schools chancellor before moving to Florida. Campbell noted that two dozen Miami-Dade schools had received failing grades from the state under Crew, who also become embroiled in a sex scandal involving a star high school athlete.

What Campbell didn’t mention, however, is Carvalho’s own sex scandal. A decade ago, when Miami-Dade was considering Carvalho as its new superintendent, leaked emails pointed to an alleged affair with a former Miami Herald education reporter. De Blasio said on Friday he warned Carvalho he’d face scrutiny over the decade-old news. That alleged affair may have been alluded to briefly during Thursday’s meeting, when school board member Susie Castillo remarked, to laughter, that “no man is perfect.”

The Miami Herald’s editorial board also praised Carvalho’s decision to stay, though it said the hours-long board meeting was unnecessary and de Blasio has every right to feel betrayed. “Given that Carvalho is such a well-respected and accomplished leader, it’s a relief that the district won’t have to conduct a national search for a new superintendent,” the board wrote. “He’s been good for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. More important, he’s been vital for its students.”

The Miami-Dade superintendent has not responded to interview requests from The 74. Carvalho, who is a prolific Twitter user with 52,300 followers, tweeted another Herald op-ed praising his decision to stay. In a second tweet, Carvalho said the decision to stay was difficult but “the kids and educators I’ve know [sic] for a decade won.”

On Friday, Carvalho tweeted out a picture of himself with young schoolchildren and a Dr. Seuss quote: “Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and twice as beautiful as you’ve ever imagined.”

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