By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – One day after Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced he is leaving South Florida to lead the school district in Los Angeles, he spoke about the qualities he thinks are important in choosing his successor.

“I think the most important characteristics my successor should have is to be a person who is an instructional leader of heart and be data driven and be compassionate and be understanding of this community and be forceful and put the kids front and center every single day and and have the courage to fight the political influences that sometimes can undermine educational opportunities for the safety and welfare of children and do not compromise on that regardless of the threats that may be coming at you.”

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Carvalho spoke to CBS4’s Peter D’Oench at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Southside Preparatory Academy in Miami on Friday where he and other officials shoveled some sand at the new construction site and posed for photos. 

Carvalho, who is in contract negotiations to become superintendent of the nation’s second largest school district in Los Angeles, spoke extensively about unfinished business here in the Miami-Dade public school system.

WATCH Carvalho’s comments at groundbreaking

The admired and experienced educator also said he is proud of his time in Miami and will miss the people.

“I am very touched by all the support after serving this community and its residence for 14 years,” he said, “but what I will miss most is the people. I have deep love and affection for the 305.“

Carvalho said there were some key challenges facing Miami-Dade Public schools that include addressing academic disparities and the  gap between students “that live in very fragile conditions whether they are English-language learners on students with disabilities and their counterparts” and dealing with a drop in post-pandemic federal funding in the next two years and dissension in the community that requires special leadership in the classroom to help students.

Carvalho told D’Oench, “So Peter as long as there are children there is unfinished business in education.”

Carvalho has been superintendent since 2008 and in 2014 was chosen both the Florida and the National Superintendent of the Year for public schools.

Carvalho said he’s not sure when his last day will be. His contract calls for a 90-day notification to the school board which will pick his successor.

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Karla Hernandez-Mats, who represents more than 18,000 teachers as the President of the United Teachers of Dade, said she will be part of the process in trying to find a new Schools Superintendent and said she will be asking a lot of questions.

She said “I think it needs to be someone who is an educator and someone who truly understands the culture of Miami-Dade County public schools and the needs of our students, our faculty and our staff and is someone who cares about the welfare of the people who work in our school system. We need a Superintendent who represents our work force and validates our work force and will make sure that we continue to inspire the work that we do and help us grow as a District.”

Hernandez-Mats also said “We are very concerned because we don’t want an opportunist to use it as part of a political agenda.”

Carvalho arrives in Los Angeles at a critical moment, as the district that serves about 600,000 students finds itself flush with funding from state and federal COVID-19 relief money but still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic, including learning losses and declining enrollment.

Carvalho and several other Florida superintendents sparred this year with Gov. Ron DeSantis over their imposition of mask mandates to combat the state’s then-rapid spread of COVID-19. DeSantis, through his education commissioner, banned mandates, saying that should be left to parents. He cut funding to some districts that defied him.

But Carvalho and others refused to yield, saying masks protected students, teachers, and staff. Carvalho dropped Miami-Dade’s mandate last month as the state’s infection rate dropped and a judge upheld DeSantis’ power to allow parents to decide for their students.

Mask mandates remain in effect in all California public schools, and Carvalho will be arriving in Los Angeles as the school district becomes one of the first in California to put a student vaccine mandate into effect in mid-January for all children 12 and older.

Carvalho said that when he arrives in Los Angeles, he plans to spend some time learning the district and its culture.

“Certainly, I will bring my personal philosophy but at the same time I will listen carefully to the culture, to the tradition, to the practices of Los Angeles,” he said.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Peter D'Oench