A magnet school principal makes the performing arts count

Martin Reid, right, was the 2016 Magnet Schools of America’s principal of the year.

Editor’s note: Throughout August, redefinED is revisiting stories that shine a light on extraordinary educators. Today’s post, first published in May 2018, describes how principal Martin Reid transformed the Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts in Miami from a low-performing small magnet program to a school with a graduation rate higher than the state average.

Sitting in the back of the classroom, Hermes Velasquez was a quiet student.

He had stage fright and was embarrassed to stand up in front of other students at an award-winning magnet school for the performing arts south of Miami.

But slowly, with the help of his teacher, Adalberto Acevedo, and the school’s family-like culture, Velasquez overcame his stage fright. To get over his fear, he familiarized himself with the stage by helping to put props out. Then he started acting in supporting roles.

Indeed, he competed in the 2018 Florida State Thespians Festival — a theater competition with 6,000 students across the state — earning excellent marks for his sketch of a comic play, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged.

Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts, a visual arts magnet program, focuses on reaching students like Velasquez and helping them grow academically and in the world of the arts. Martin Reid, the school’s principal, has transformed it from a low-performing small magnet program with a sour reputation and student disciplinary problems to a school with large parental involvement and a high graduation rate surpassing the state average.  School officials say they expect in the least the school’s grade will rise from a C to a B this year.

Its improvement tracks a broader trend in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which has eliminated F-rated schools and expanded district-run school choice programs.

Reid said the school’s mission is to prepare students for college and for work in the arts industry or a hybrid of both.

“They are goal-driven and they are motivated in their careers,” he said of the students. “We are able to give a lot of attention and support to the kids. We are able to drill down to their strengths and weaknesses to motivate them.”

Since Reid took over the reins at the school in 2009, it has been awarded Magnet Schools of America’s Merit Award of Excellence in 2014 and 2017. It also received the Merit Award of Distinction.

In 2016, the magnet school association named Reid its Principal of the Year.

“When Martin Reid took over the school, he really revamped the performing-arts program there and really changed the culture of the school,” said John Laughner, legislative communication manager for Magnet Schools of America.

School officials say Reid is a hands-on administrator who knows all the 604 students by name and has an open-door policy to reach them.

“I always try to inspire and motivate the students whenever I talk to them,” Reid said, explaining his door is literally open most of the day. “When I have a grade level assembly I don’t use a microphone. So much mutual respect is given, we are able to have conversations.”

Reid explained that when students understand why their education is important, they tend to take ownership.

Victor Ferguson, a senior, has known Reid since the sixth grade. The 17-year-old, who plans to attend Clark Atlanta University, said Reid always makes sure he is focused and is on top of his studies.

He will give him advice on what he needs to do to be successful, Ferguson said.

Acevedo said Reid puts on his stomping boots and leads pep rallies.

“He knows everything going on in the classroom,” he said. “He goes in and observes.”

Kristina Beard, the school’s magnet lead teacher, said Reid encourages teachers to run with their ideas. At every faculty meeting, he reviews data and offers positive feedback for teachers.

Reid also remembers students who are struggling and inspires them to keep going, Beard said.


When Reid arrived at the school in Goulds, Fla., 29 miles south of Miami, it was vastly different than it is today. The school was a middle school serving students up to eighth grade. Its small arts magnet program was dying.

Reid, who has a master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University, a bachelor’s from Florida A&M University and a special education degree from the University of Miami, commended the staff at the school he took over. He said they were excellent. But he knew he had to tweak some things.

He created a culture of literacy by connecting everything the school did with the number of books students read. For example, to attend a dance, students had to read five books.

Further, he instituted a teacher-of-the-month program and changed the instructional model. He instituted an approach, known as gradual release, that shifts instructional responsibility to the ownership of the child. While the teacher remains the facilitator, students are taught to think critically and how to focus on the cognitive demands by working in groups and by themselves.

“When teachers just stand and lecture, the kids are not even engaged,” he said. “This forces engagement.”

To tackle discipline issues, Reid implemented conflict meditation and hired a dedicated counselor.

What he found is that often students need to just talk to a counselor. This, he said, has helped reduce disciplinary issues.

He wanted to shift the school’s mission from an urban middle school to a magnet school conservatory.

“We had to rebrand our school,” he said.

Now the school serves students from sixth to 12th grade and is a visual arts school focusing on band, chorus, theater, media production and all disciplines of literature.

Nearly half of the students are Hispanic and the other half black.

“We have been able to diversify our school by doing two things: focusing on providing a world quality education in a safe, clean, creative and inspiring learning environment and aggressively marketing our program to as many schools as we possibly can during the recruitment season,” Reid said.

Reid formed a partnership with the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, which allowed the school to become an official conservatory.

He also engaged parents.

“We were able to get an active PTSA,” he said. “We had kids with parents who had a long-term vested interest in the success of the school and they were committed to working and making sure they had a voice in the region with the school board members.”

The curriculum is also different from a traditional public school.

“What separates us is we have an eight-period day, which allows kids to do more with their education and have more of a voice in their education,” he said.

For example, if a student is struggling in math, he may have to take remedial courses, but there is still enough flexibility in his schedule that he won’t have to sacrifice art class.

The school has improved in its Florida Standard Assessment scores. For example, in 2014, 36.2 percent of 10th grade students scored a 3 or higher on the English Language Arts assessment. In 2017, 62 percent of students scored a 3 or higher, surpassing the state average of 50 percent.

At the same time, the graduation rate continues to climb. In 2014, 83 percent of students graduated from the school. That number grew nine percentage points to 92 percent in 2016-17, surpassing the state average of 80 percent.

Education remains Reid’s lifelong passion.

“I chose education because I truly wanted to make a difference in the world,” he said. “No other profession allows one to have such a positive impact on society. As an educator you have the opportunity to shape society in the image of ‘Decency.’”

Commentary: Special education is more complex than many realize

Despite being told her son, Brandon, would never learn to read, Donna Berman persisted in her quest to find an appropriate education setting for him where he could thrive. Brandon died Sept. 10, 2017, at the age of 19.

Editor’s note: The Orlando Sentinel recently published commentary arguing that private schools that accept vouchers discriminate against children with special needs. A Volusia County parent of a special needs child begs to differ. Donna Berman’s son, Brandon, who had autism and a brain tumor as well as muscular dystrophy and seizures, was denied admission to a local public school. Berman tells Brandon’s story in a response to the Sentinel, published Thursday, noting that until Brandon received a Gardiner Scholarship to attend a private school, he was “a space-age kid stuck in a stone-age system.”

Special education is a complex topic, dealing with dozens of laws, hundreds of unique needs and thousands of children across the state. It’s a topic that deserves better and deeper discussion than recently presented.

A recent column by Scott Maxwell (“Voucher schools can reject kids with disabilities,” Aug. 7) argued that private schools can discriminate against children with disabilities. However, individual public schools can also reject students with disabilities. I know this from personal experience. Worse still, the column was published while Volusia County public schools are under investigation by the Justice Department for discriminating against students with autism.

Read more here.

To read more about Brandon, click here.


Jack Coons: The needy need charters

Overall public charter school enrollment increased from 0.4 million to 3.0 million between fall 2000 and fall 2016. During this period, the percentage of public school students who attended charter schools increased from 1 to 6 percent. Source: National Center for Education Statistics

The New York Times recently managed yet another article discrediting charter schools, this one asserting they have lost their luster.

This knock comes in harmony with the current kibitzing by the teachers unions, so far quite successful in persuading state legislators to limit the growing number of these competitors of our “public schools.” New York and California are among the states that have surrendered and put brakes on new charters.

Whatever “luster” was intended to mean, the charter has in fact lost none of its charm for the concerned parent. I recommend a recent article in the Journal of Political Economy by Christopher Walters, associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

His article, “The Demand for Effective Charter Schools,” confirms the popularity of these new institutions, now sufficiently successful to constitute a real threat to union domination of our poor in city schools. Hence, the political panic among state legislators.

Meanwhile, of course, these same public servants prize and support parental choice of pseudo-public schools in New York City, which, as is not uncommon elsewhere, are reserved for those children who are the best test-takers and whose parents choose to have them apply. Here the state and union stand together for choice.

Now, an important concession: As currently structured, charters do not solve every problem. Walters’ title, again, is “The Demand for Effective Charter Schools.” While the relish for charters does increase, a disproportionate share of these would-be choiceniks are the better-educated and informed parents. Hence, though they are popular, “… charter expansion is likely to be most effective when accompanied by efforts to target students who are unlikely to apply.”

In short, our charter systems will become even more successful as society takes steps to insure that the least educated parents become aware of their options. This is hardly surprising; 40 years ago, Stephen Sugarman and I addressed that issue at length in “Education by Choice,” even imagining the following sections of a model statute:

“The Legislature shall provide for a thorough system of information concerning public and private scholarship schools which system shall serve all families including the non-literate. The Superintendent may terminate the certification of any public or private scholarship school which refuses to cooperate in the disclosure of information or which provides inadequate, misleading or inaccurate information. The Legislature may provide parents with separate grants redeemable for the services of educational counsellors who are without financial or other interest in any common school.” (Education by Choice p. 227)

This seemed, as they say, a no-brainer. Of course, it does burden the school, and hence was unacceptable to Milton Friedman and his still-much-alive “voucher right” followers who preferred a completely free market for sellers of education.

Up to a point, I agree; if the school cannot maintain its identity, choice loses its purpose. But the schooling of children is not a free market. The buyer here is conscripted for the product; school is compulsory, and the child is drafted. If the parents are to choose, they must, to some degree, understand what their widely differing options will be. That’s the whole point.

The happy side of such regulation is that it challenges every parent to get in the game. I agree that some form of compulsion is necessary to insure, for most children, an understanding of our social and civic order. But one sure way to miss that boat is to confirm for that child that the parent is useless.

And that same message to parents assures that they find themselves just as the child sees them after a bad first day of school – powerless and futile.

Patricia Levesque describes public education in the year 2039


If you hopped in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and traveled to the year 2039, what would your utopian public education system look like?

That’s the question Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill posed to Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation For Excellence in Education, on this episode of PodcastED.

For Levesque, utopia begins and ends with equalizing opportunity – putting more money, more power, and better information into the hands of parents who traditionally have had little of all three.

“If you give parents the ability to have power and leverage in (their child’s educational) process so they can curate…that is the ultimate form of accountability,” Levesque says.

Both Tuthill and Levesque believe that if you started building public education from scratch, funding systems wouldn’t look like what we have now. Funding would be based on each child’s unique needs – with an eye towards equal opportunity.

The two influential policy wonks also discussed equalizing access to out-of-school learning opportunities, including travel, computer science becoming a core component of every child’s education, giving teachers more control over their professional development through professional spending accounts, and raising teacher pay.

You can listen to this thought-provoking podcast below, or on the Apple Podcasts app. Thank you for listening.