MIAMI (CBSMiami) – At one time, Miami Northwestern Senior High School was better known for gun violence than academic performance, but an unlikely duo has been instrumental in transforming the school over the last decade.
Principal Wallace Artistide has been working with Miami Parking Authority CEO Art Noriega, who was looking for an opportunity to give back in the public school system.
Their partnership was formed through the Council for Educational Change, which matches CEOs with school principals. Through these partnerships, CEOs mentor school principals on strategic planning, problem-solving, team building, innovative thinking and a myriad of corporate leadership skills that focus on improving the quality of student education.
“I said, look, don’t put me in a suburban school,” said Noriega. “I want to be in the inner-city.”
Noriega started volunteering at Miami Northwestern around the same time Artistide became the assistant principal. They have been a team ever since.
“Half the students coming in as freshman, at the time, didn’t make it to their senior year,” said Noriega. “That’s an eye-opening statistic, and really sheds a huge light on what are the issues, why is there this huge impediment to kids getting to graduation.”
Artistide, who has since been promoted to Principal, says there were countless challenges when they first started.
“I think the biggest thing was students not believing in themselves, and it was tough because the adults didn’t believe in the students,” said Artistide. “I think that was the hardest part. That was difficult. The perception was that it would be an F. If it made a D, it would be celebrated, and we felt you can’t celebrate mediocrity. Why are you celebrating Ds? Why can’t we be an A?”
Indeed, the school has shattered expectations, going from an F school to an A school. The graduation rate is now at more than 85 percent.
“There’s a heightened sense of expectations for them,” said Noriega. “They don’t lower the bar for these students. Forget the neighborhood they came from, forget their background. They have an expectation there that none of that matters. You can achieve everything any kid in the suburbs, or any kid at a private school can achieve because we’re going to give you a foundation for that.”
Noriega brings a business perspective to the school, working with Artistide on budgetary concerns, and helping connect him with resources, funding, and support within the community.
“We talked a lot about staff development, how to really motivate staff, how to get them to the point where they buy into the vision you have,” said Noriega.
Noriega has helped secure $300,000 to establish a TV program at the school, and during Hurricane Irma, when the school became a shelter, Noriega was the first person Artistide called.
“They had brought 500 homeless here to just reside and wait out the hurricane, and the place was just a mess,” said Noriega. “So I connected him with a company who brought a bunch of volunteers. They pressure cleaned, they painted, and the school was almost brand new when these guys came back.”
Sometimes, Noriega is simply a sounding board.
“Art is somebody I can call and I can talk to him about anything,” said Artistide. “He’s become more than a partner, he’s like a friend, he’s like a family member.
Artistide continues to raise expectations for his students and Noriega says he is also committed to Miami Northwestern for the long haul.
“Life is about not always just what you take in,” he said. “It’s what you put back out.”
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