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MAST Academy: How the Miami Dade County Public School Board Is Selling Its Soul

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When I got the call that my daughter Sydney had been accepted to MAST Academy, frankly I was speechless, which for me is almost never. See, in order to get into MAST, first you have to be smart, then you have to be lucky. I know my baby is beyond smart; it's the lucky part that is a crap shoot. The year she got into MAST, the principal told me there were over 2,000 applicants and they offered just 120 spots. So smart and then really lucky enough to be in the five percent of kids who get into one of the absolute best high schools in the United States, public or private.

At orientation, they tell you right off that getting there is a challenge. If you're going to MAST, you want to be there, because getting there is a schlep. Many kids, who don't have the luxury of being driven to school or in a car pool, take three legs of buses to get to MAST, but it is well worth it to have your child in what's referred to as "the Harvard of high schools." Our school's strong core curriculum is a magnet college preparatory school whose emphasis is on the sciences and mathematics and which includes a variety of AP and dual enrollment courses that are complemented with unique electives like Culinary, Marine Biology and Solar Energy. At MAST, students are encouraged and challenged to develop in three major areas: academics, the arts and sports. We believe that in order to be successful, the students must achieve a balance in all aspects of life.

MAST is a nationally recognized school for excellence. Even the White House understood this. In 2010 MAST was chosen as one of six finalists vying to have President Obama as their commencement speaker.

Late last week, parents of MAST Academy learned the Miami Dade County School board quietly entered into talks four months ago with the Village of Key Biscayne to essentially "sell" MAST to them as its first home high school. The Key has been trying for years to piece together a deal that would allow them to have a high school. Efforts have not yielded fruit so they've turned to their last resort; MAST Academy which has been housed on Key Biscayne for over 20 years. Some say residents are resentful that the best school in Miami Dade is in their city and their kids are expected to go through the same stringent process as everybody else. Oh boy.

According to the Islander News, Key Biscayne's Local newspaper, for the past four months representatives of the Village of Key Biscayne have worked with the Miami-Dade School District to establish a local high school by adding a second building on the MAST campus. This $9 million plan is on a fast track that would include already adding portables to accommodate 8th and 9th grade students from Key Biscayne starting in August 2012. Once the new building is completed 1,100 students from Key Biscayne from grades 6 to 12 will be guaranteed a space at the school starting in 2014, as opposed to having to jump through the academic hoops that have made entry a privilege well earned. The bottom line affect is that MCDPS is essentially tripling the number of students on the MAST campus from the existing 550 students to a possible 1,500!

This seems like an attempt by the residents of Key Biscayne to use their money to buy their way into MAST, regardless of the academic impact on the school. If MDCPS is so concerned with making top schools accessible to the neighborhoods that house them, then open the internationally recognized New World School of the Arts to Overtown and incredibly gifted Design Architecture Senior High to Little Haiti.

I had a reporter remark to me "It's essentially geographic affirmative action for rich white people." There is now an education petition on change.org with these words "Students throughout the years have shaped this site by planting gardens, installing solar panels and cleaning the beaches, among other things, which would likely be destroyed by the proposed portables, new permanent building, underground parking and walk-through area. The new construction would eliminate the possibility for future students to similarly contribute."

So my question is, why? Why mess with a formula that is clearly working, and for decades? Is MDCPS really willing to play Solomon's baby with their #1 school? The proposal's advocates who assert that "nothing will change" with the academic standards are chatting foolishness. How is that possible if you change the entire makeup of the school? By altering the formula it will be a different school by definition, no matter how many times you say it won't change. Replicate the model; don't change it. Tripling the number of students, expanding the grade levels and guaranteeing Key Biscayne students' automatic entry is not maintaining the standards. Essentially, what Key Biscayne and MDCPS are doing is bringing MAST down in standards in order to bring Key Biscayne up in standards. That's called mediocrity folks.

To add insult to injury, the Key and MDCPS quietly put these plans into place but did not even alert the Principal until 10 days before the school year ended. The staff found out on the last day of school and MDCPS planned the final vote for June 13th, virtually ensuring that it would fly under the radar of parents mentally checked out until August. We parents found out quite on accident and needless to say we're outraged and are aggressively pushing back against proposal F-7.

Numbers don't lie. Here are a few that are true for MAST
# 1 ranked Miami Dade County Public High School in 2011 according to the Florida Department of Education
# 2 ranked High School in the State of Florida 2011 according to the Florida Department of Education
#17 ranked Magnet High School in the United States by U.S news & World Report
#58 ranked High School in the ENTIRE United States by the Daily Beast
#73 ranked High School in the ENTIRE United States by U.S. News & World Report
10 Most Amazing Schools by Ladies Home Journal
100 percent Four-year graduation rate
100 percent College Acceptance Rate
98 percent Students attending 4-year colleges
24.7 Average ACT score
1707 Average SAT score

So we MAST parents, students and supporters have mobilized like wildfire since last Thursday, calling media, emailing school board members, lobbying electing officials, engaging the students to save their school. We are preparing to kick this proposal back to whence it came, until we are given our rights as citizens of Florida, governed by the "Sunshine Laws," to participate in legislation and processes that affect our families.

MAST Academy is the living proof that public education can work. Don't let MDCPS take that away from our children.