Miami Carol City Senior High School produces change agents, champions and music aficionados. Notable alumni include a Florida senator and circuit court judge and NFL Super Bowl champions.
Global chart-topping rapper “Flo Rida” never dunked tater tots in the cafeteria with Trayvon Martin, the slain teen whose death ignited the Black Lives Matter movement, but all of the aforementioned graced the same halls during eras defined as “heyday.”
In recent times, the storied school has been dubbed the less appealing “dropout factory.” Many are concerned and want to see the school return to its glory days.
But a divisive relationship exists between the Miami Carol City alumni association and District 1 Miami-Dade County Public School Board Member Steve Gallon. Both are committed to the school's improvement, but their perspectives regarding Miami Carol City's turnaround and future broadly differ. On Jan. 9, Gallon met with 12 parents, retired teachers and community leaders to discuss how they can be integral on the journey to change.
“... I have been blessed to engage with various community stakeholders who have a deep and sincere commitment to Carol City Senior High School," said Gallon in a statement provided to The Miami Times. "In doing so, I have been proud to report to each group the measurable academic improvement of the school over the past two years and its provision of education programs and partnerships such a Dual Enrollment, Advanced Placement and Honors, Vocational/Industrial Education, and iPrep to name a few.”
At Miami-Dade County Public School Board's first regular meeting of 2020 Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 1450 NE Second Ave., Gallon will be present as will be members of the Official Miami Carol City Sr. High School Alumni Association wearing orange and black to represent chief pride. The alumni are driven and passionate regarding allegations they believe threaten Miami Carol City's future and will have an opportunity to address the school board during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
Fatimah Albergottie, the organization’s president helped establish the not-for-profit organization in 2015 when she and others realized the school needed advocacy.
“Miami Carol City is 56 years old and had no official alumni representation," said Albergottie. "For the past four years, we’ve been advocating academic progression for the students, pride and tradition, and offering overall support to parents, teachers, and students.”
The advocacy of which Albergottie speaks exists in many forms and commands a voluminous voice including social media, radio broadcasts, community rumor and conjecture, and even snail mail.
“I am concerned over the lack of organization and disrespect shown at Miami Carol City," said Van Gaskins, a 2008 alumni whose sentiments were mailed in a letter to the school board. "The current principal is not doing anything by the book while there are policies and procedures in place. At this point, we are feeling like our issues are not being addressed. The current teachers and students deserve the best education of their high school career. Students have been without some teachers for this entire school year, lifelong teachers at the school whose performance was not an issue were transferred out with no replacement.”
Miami Carol City Sr. High School is located in Miami Gardens with about 1, 252 students enrolled in grades 9-12. The student to teacher ratio is 16:1 and, according to state test scores, 25% of students are at least proficient in math and 21% in reading. The student ethnic demographics are 80% Black, 13% Hispanic and 1% white. The school’s winning tradition and reputation includes the marching band being dubbed the “soul of the school.”
The athletic program has experienced longstanding success, and in a ranking of Best High Schools of Athletes in Florida, Carol City ranked No. 134 of 1,117. Locally, in Miami-Dade County, the school’s athletics ranked No. 12 of 136. Geralda “Gigi” Ambroise graduated from Miami Carol City in 2011. She later graduated from Florida A&M University where she was a member of the renowned Marching 100 band. Her memories of being a student in her Miami Gardens neighborhood school are resonate and fond.
“Miami Gardens was known as ‘Murder Gardens.’ A total of 12 of my classmates from 2007 to 2014 were killed by gun violence or gang- and drug-related crimes,” said Ambroise. “But school was our safe haven, it was where we could be in comfort and enjoy activities like band because everything else around us was hopeless and negative.”
Ambroise is currently a band director at Salem Middle School in the metro Atlanta area. She credits her Miami Carol City band director, Michael Scott as an influencer who laid the groundwork for her instructional success.
“I watched Mr. Scott work hard at Carol City and get shot down a lot, but he gave us all the tools to be successful and encouraged us to persevere no matter the obstacle,” said Ambroise. “He told us to keep moving forward, keep moving on. Band was such an impactful thing in our community and it saved our lives. Now, teacher enrollment at Carol City is diminishing because they feel their voices don’t matter. Happy teachers create happy students.”
Despite NFL and collegiate draftees and a bevy of accolades and wins, Carol City has been challenged over the past decade. According to the Florida Department of Education, Miami Carol City received overall academic grades of “D” for two consecutive school years: 2015-17. Grades improved to a "C" for 2018 and 2019. Retention rates during the same time frame reported for freshman to seniors show 53% out of every 100 students who entered the school as freshman made it through their senior year and obtained a high school diploma. The latter stats were assessed in a Johns Hopkins study, which called the school a “dropout factory.”
Albergottie has spearheaded a plan to combat the school’s lack of programs and low enrollment.
“In 2018, we met with school district personnel, stakeholders, educators and representatives from the faith-based community. All were people interested in building pride and student momentum,” said Albergottie. “A ‘Reenvision Plan’ was developed based on four components: student interest and opportunity; academic programs and activities; community engagement and involvement; and safety and well-being.”
The plan has yet to be implemented and, according to Albergottie, the supporting group started with 40 people, then dwindled to 20. A corp of 10 were left to achieve a goal that is crucial for Miami Carol City Senior High.
Gallon speaks with pride regarding the success of all schools under his watch, but emphasized Miami Carol City. Gallon encourages parents, supports, and the community at-large to visit the Florida Department of Education website and view the state required School Improvement Plan to cross-check facts and identify current statistics.
"I remain fully committed to Miami Carol City High School, as I am to the dozens of schools in District 1 which, for the second straight year, has no F or D schools,” stated Gallon.