shirley-gibson_web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS — Florida’s largest predominantly black city is looking to improve the level of academic achievement in the 25 schools within its boundaries.

To that end, Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson and her administration entered into a unique partnership with the Miami-Dade School Board in April 2007. The pact includes the creation of business opportunities between the city and the school system, as well as the all-important increase in student achievement.

It has been more than a year since the school board’s unanimous approval of the “Miami Gardens Education Compact,” a document designed to guide both entities to improve the state of public education in the city.

City officials on Tuesday, Oct. 7 presented recommendations in four key areas at a public meeting at city hall. 

The four areas addressed by sub-committees are: Improving Academic Programs, School Safety Issues, Community Involvement and Coordination of Infrastructure and Administrative Planning Efforts.

The compact includes goals such as ensuring that all schools attain a grade of at least ‘B’ by the next school year (2009-2010) under the state’s A-Plus Accountability Program. Under the program, schools are assigned a grade of A through F based on the proportion of students who pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

Five of Miami Gardens’ elementary schools earned an ‘A’ in 2008; three elementary schools earned a ‘B,’ four earned a ‘C,’ and four earned a ‘D.’

Another of the city’s goals may be a longer stretch.  The city hopes to establish an International Baccalaureate Program at one of its high schools (Miami Carol City or Miami Norland), both of which earned an ‘F’ for the past two years, and a consistent ‘D’ for several years prior to that.

The IB program includes a rigorous, two-year college preparatory curriculum that can lead to advanced placement credit at the finest colleges and universities in the nation.

The Miami Gardens schools’ performance levels notwithstanding, Deputy City Manager Renee Farmer said the goal of instituting an IB program is achievable.

“There’s nothing in [the compact] that’s unrealistic. Might it be lofty? Yeah. Unrealistic? No,” she said.

Setting and achieving lofty goals has become characteristic of Miami Gardens. In the city’s five-year existence, it has achieved goals that were once considered out of its reach, such as establishing its own police department and securing lucrative commercial development.

The most significant ingredient in the multi-faceted educational initiative will come from the city’s residents. Farmer said the city is looking for “parental involvement in education.”

Residents who are not parents will also have a role to play.

“We are looking for the community to mentor. Folks who are no longer parents or that have retired can mentor folks or adopt a school,” Farmer said.

Other programs proposed by the compact include a replication of the Miami Dade School Board’s Parent Academy, collaborations between the city’s police department and the school board’s police department, and a program that makes better use of a student’s time when he or she is suspended from school.

Photo: Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson