Focus Continues on Education Needs of Brickell & Downtown Families

Discussions about new schools in the Brickell area seem to be picking up since we held our Inaugural Education Forum in May. We’re hearing ideas about advancing the stalled request to convert Southside Elementary to a K-8, which includes taking action on the restoration of the currently closed and unusable historical buildings that has been on hold. We’ve also heard concepts from Miami-Dade Public Schools officials of expanding beyond K-8, perhaps through 12th grade, by using other City property around the school.

BHA also heard about plans by Mater Academy to build a charter school in the Brickell area. The private company has amassed space in the Southwest 17th Road and Second Avenue area for a K-12 that will provide for 3,000 students. Mater has acquired more land than they had in 2011 when they first proposed the school and faced concerns about traffic flow and impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools District and Mater Academy shared their visions and plans to serve the needs of Brickell students in columns for this BHA News. See articles from MDCPS and Mater, and renderings of Mater’s proposed charter school.

“We want to bring high quality public education to Brickell,” Mater Academy President Antonio Roca told BHA in July.

BHA neighbors were especially encouraged that Mater said once they get the necessary okay’s from the City of Miami, they can build their school in a year.
“We’re happy to see some ideas and real planning come to the forefront on this critical need for families in Downtown and Brickell,” BHA President Gail Feldman said. “We don’t want families to leave our area as their children grow because they don’t have quality schools in the neighborhood.”

Education top concern

“Many besides BHA, including those who can make a difference, have focused on Downtown and Brickell education since we held our Forum in May,” Ms. Feldman said. “We are working with Miami DDA and our Downtown neighbors. Together we have thousands of families with children, and this common need.”

BHA and its partners put together the Inaugural Downtown/Brickell Education Forum on May 23, 2016 to bring together community leaders, residents, educators, businesses, and other community stakeholders to address the state of education, particularly K-12, in our booming Urban Core. The goal was to engage stakeholders and see leaders emerge with strategies to overcome the challenges presented in our metropolis-neighborhood, and seize opportunities for providing excellence in education in Miami’s Urban Core.

Much of what we heard from MDCPS at the Ed Forum did not address the lack of quality public middle and high schools in the Urban Core. We also heard that the school district does not have any plans to create the neighborhood-based schools residents in Downtown and Brickell are seeking.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, in his keynote address (left), talked a lot about improving surrounding schools that are not in the Downtown/Brickell neighborhoods, and said he supported but had tabled the K-8 Southside conversion at the time. It is still on hold as Mr. Carvalho’s strategists work on creative — and we hope feasible — options.

MDCPS School Board Representatives Ms. Raquel Regalado & Dr. Martin Karp and MDC’s Dr. Richard Soria, President of the Wolfson Campus, addressed the State of Downtown/Brickell Area Public Schools on the panel followed by public Q & A.

Breakout groups on Urban Core issues were led by BKB Moms, Gulliver Schools, MDC’s Condo College and School of Education, Nature Links, and the Southside Elementary PTA. The roundtable discussions expanded the education topic to address special needs issues, private and charter school options, and adult education.

BHA thanks all those who attended the Inaugural Downtown/Brickell Education Forum. A special thanks to the Forum’s Inaugural Sponsor KW Property Management for their generosity in support of our children’s education. We thank our Ed Forum partners and co-hosts, Miami Dade College, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and the Miami Downtown Development Authority, and all the speakers and presenters for their efforts to ensure we provided an informative experience.

The Forum was successful in drawing serious attention to the genuine need for quality public education in Downtown and Brickell. We understand that given our area’s density, creative ideas and approaches are needed.

Education Part 2: A Hot Topic in the Middle of Summer

Testament to the growing chorus of residents wanting to see educational options in the neighborhood, it was standing room only at BHA’s July 26th meeting focused on Education to follow up the Forum. (Of course it helped that it was a great venue and sumptuous reception at Morton’s generously sponsored by Castle Group.)  We heard from Mater Academy with their exciting news, Gulliver Schools, Miami Children’s Museum & Miami Children’s Museum Charter School.

We also heard about the potential of a public/private partnership between MDCPS and the City of Miami to expand Southside Elementary School to a K-8 school (or possibly a K-12) with a satellite campus for the new upper school located at the site of the City’s Fire Station No. 4. The plan would be to co-locate the school on the property with a newly renovated Fire Station, with both Southside campuses sharing the nearby Southside Park for their outdoor needs. MDCPS officials are looking into the feasibility of an emergency facility sharing space with a school. The Fire Chief and City Manager will have to be convinced it’s feasible.

Where Do We Go From Here…

The planning process for addressing the Urban Core’s educational needs has been accelerated since the Ed Forum in May. Representatives from the City of Miami, MDCPS, and other stakeholders began meeting weekly to come up with solutions for the education issues we face in the Brickell and Downtown area.

After more than a year of informal talks, the Miami-Dade School Board recently moved to formalize those talks through a unanimous vote to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the proposed Southside project at Fire Station No. 4. As part of that September 7th vote, the School Board also approved the Superintendent’s five-year strategic plan which allocates more than $50 million toward projects related to Southside Elementary School and secondary school seats, including the completion of the renovation of the current campus and construction costs associated with the new satellite campus.

Unfortunately, to date BHA has still not received any information about timelines for current and/or future projects. “We know neighbors want to see something faster than five years,” BHA President Gail Feldman said.

BHA will continue to work with Urban Core stakeholders to organize our education advocacy efforts to ensure our area’s issues are heard and addressed appropriately. But we need the voices of residents at every juncture. Please take a few minutes to review this “Call to Action” and share it with your friends, neighbors, and others who care about education in the Brickell area.

Sam Joseph, BHA’s Director of Advocacy, is leading this initiative and welcomes residents to join the committee. For more information about how you can get more involved in this important issue, contact him at sjoseph@brickellhomeowners.com.

Photo Gallery July 2016 Meeting at Morton’s Sponsored by Castle, July 26, 2016