Miami Dade County Public schools
Hialeah Gardens, Florida
Grades: 6 – 8
2017 America’s Best Urban School Award Winner
t Hialeah Gardens Middle School, the sense of family is tangible. Principal Maritza Jimenez has set an expectation of caring and intentionally created opportunities to build trust among teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Through common planning time, regular examination of data, and clearly communicated goals and expectations, Hialeah Gardens has reached academic achievement levels for all groups of students that exceed state averages. All 1170 students have access to a wide range of coursework including visual art, drama, ballet, chorus, and symphonic band. And for those whose interests lie outside the arts, Hialeah also offers classes in coding or law. Learn more about Hialeah Gardens Middle School and how the administration and teachers have worked together to support students toward success within a culture of caring and collaboration.
Hialeah Gardens Middle School’s vision seeks to foster a learning environment where diversity is valued, and students are able to seek an enhanced quality of life. Hialeah Gardens Middle is a Title I school with 83% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. In fact, for the past 3 years, we have been recognized by the Exceeding Expectations Project Florida (ECTAC) as one of a select group of Title I schools that have shown significant progress in improving student achievement. Students are able to dream, explore and achieve without the benefit of a magnet or a specialized school label.
One of my top priorities is to provide a menu of academic opportunities, weakening the trendy school choice option where parents seek outside alternatives. Instead, Hialeah Gardens Middle has 6 academic academies: Biomedical, Agriscience, Engineering, Law, Arts and Entertainment, and Information Technology. During the 8-period school day, students are able to select four elective courses, from among 14, ensuring a well-rounded education. Students may also enroll in our eight-high school credit course offerings and yes even Miami Dade College Dual Enrollment classes. Our goal is to consistently push academic limits, preparing students for global success even at the middle school level.
Working in alignment with the current middle school redesign initiatives, our leadership team has begun a blueprint for turning our school’s traditional media center into a “Student Life Center” where learners come to get fit mentally and physically. Workspaces will be comfortable, fluid and technologically friendly. Students will check out tablets and find quiet nooks for reading. They can select whether to study with a view of the garden from a treadmill or sofa. Soon our student will benefit from the opening of the school’s “Innovation Lab,” where students in coding courses can work on the development of apps and in other technology programs can prepare for industry certification. Group work and team projects are supported by the mobile desks with charging stations and colorful brainstorming walls. This falls in direct support of keeping students in neighborhood schools, alleviating a need to look elsewhere.
It is important to note that quality teacher recruitment and an engaged staff can be credited for this level of ambition. First, the leadership team works with teachers more akin to a partnership. The goal is to maximize teacher capacity while giving them autonomy. Teachers commit themselves to common planning, data disaggregation, professional development and adopting innovative teaching tools. Teachers are also not bound by a single subject area. For example, the American Sign Language teacher also teaches reading, and one of our 6th-grade math teachers also teaches a technology class. This may seem minor; however, imagine the interdisciplinary benefits students receive because their teachers have a variety of teaching experiences. As a residual effect, teachers also feel job contentment as they are encouraged to explore their interests.
As can be seen, Hialeah Gardens Middle continues to be progressive in the manner in which students are educated. We are constantly looking for ways to be a competitive force for retaining the best and brightest in our neighborhood school. Students are given options to make academic decisions that have real-world engagement. When traditional spaces become obsolete, our goal is to make new ones that are for students, by students. Even so, the support of quality teachers is paramount. This single factor continues to be the top indicator of student success at our school.