barack-obama-at-central-high.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

MIAMI-DADE — A predominantly black Miami-Dade County public school got the highest praise when President Barack Obama told Miami Central High School, “you’re doing what I challenged states to do shortly after I took office– and that’s turning America’s lowest-performing schools around.”

“This is something that hasn’t received as much attention as it should. But it could hardly be more important to our country,” Obama said during a visit Friday to Miami Central High, 1781 NW 95th St.

The President, accompanied by former Gov. Jeb Bush – a staunch education advocate — told the students he deliberately chose their school to launch Education Month.

Bush had suggested Central High because the school, once failing, has made remarkable strides. “More students are graduating than before,” Obama said, “and test scores are improving.”

Miami Central, whose principal and half of its staff had been fired, received a $784,000 U.S. Department of Education’s Title I School Improvement grant. The funds were earmarked for the 2010-11 school year.

Eight states received funding to turn around persistently low-achieving schools.

About 700 Miami Central students, who met criteria set by the White House, were present to hear Obama speak, Principal Rennina Turner said. The students were required to have perfect attendance, maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA and belong to a school club or the student council.

Miami Central has now been graded a “C” school, said Turner, who was appointed principal last July. "We will work as hard as we can to become an “A” school. We will not remain complacent and accept a C as good enough."

The President was clearly pleased at the performance so far.

“It’s inspiring to think about where you were just a few years ago and then where you are today,” Obama said. “You came together to turn this school around.  And I think the rest of us can learn something from that because that’s what we’re going to need to do all across the country right now.”

About 2,000 high schools in America — 12 percent of the total — produce nearly half of the young people who drop out of school, Obama said. “And we know these schools are often found in rural areas or in big cities like Miami. Many of these schools have lots of Haitian Americans and African Americans, Latino and other minority students.”

Miami Central, he said, “used to be one of these schools. Used to.”

 

Unemployment rates, Obama said, have fallen to their lowest level in two years and the economy has added another 222,000 jobs in the private sector. “So our economy has now added 1.5 million private sector jobs over the last year. And that’s progress,” he said.

 

But Obama told the students that, in today’s economy, companies make decisions about where to locate and whom to hire based on a few key factors: “They’re looking for faster, more reliable transportation and communications networks, like high-speed railroads and high-speed Internet.  They’re looking for a commitment to innovation and investments in basic research so that companies can profit from new ideas and new discoveries.”

Most of all, Obama said, the single most important feature companies look for is highly skilled, highly educated workers. Over the next 10 years, he said, nearly half of all new jobs will require a level of education that goes beyond a high school degree. “So, first of all, you can’t drop out. You can’t even think about dropping out,” he said.

Students will need additional education, Obama said, adding that a good education equals a good job. “If we want more good news on the jobs front, then we’ve got to make more investments in education,” he added.

 

Obama applauded the students’ efforts in remaining persistent and coming together as a student body. “You didn't give up,” he said. “And that's why I’m going to be leaving here so full of hope.  I’m full of hope about Miami Central’s future. I’m full of hope about America’s future because I’m full of hope about your future.”

Miami Central freshman Travone Parr, 14, described Obama’s visit as “amazing and inspirational.”

“When he was elected, I knew then that I could do anything and be anything I wanted,” Travone said.

Travone plans to attend Johnson & Wales University and pursue a career in the culinary arts. “We’re a C school now but are pushing for an A. The teachers here are great,” Travone said.

Cynthia Roby can be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net