The ABC's of Carvalho

School Superintendent opens up about life and success as top man

Erick Johnson | 4/10/2014, 9 a.m.
The room for this interview was an immaculate office overlooking midtown. There was a large desk, and several tall bookshelves ...

The room for this interview was an immaculate office overlooking midtown. There was a large desk, and several tall bookshelves covered with many framed pictures of family, friends and the colleagues of Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Here, the leader of the nation’s fourth largest public school system would offer a rare glimpse of his humanity, one easily hidden behind the glare of television cameras and press conferences.

The room was very organized, much like the clean-cut Carvalho, who looked more like a chief executive officer than a top school administrator. When a Miami Times reporter compliments him on a photograph with President Obama and first lady Michelle, Carvalho immediately opens the conversation. “In the past two years that administration has been more genuine in helping the poor and Black males. The My Brother’s Keeper’s Initiative is everything I believe in,” Carvalho said, referring to the president’s program to help Black males across the country overcome poverty and live successful and prosperous lives.

Carvalho has known poverty, but he's now experiencing prosperity. He was named School Superintendent of the Year in February in Nashville, a crowning achievement for Carvalho who beat out 48 other school superintendents from across the country for the honor. As he accepted his award, Carvalho thanked his late father, who did not live to experience his son’s success because of “circumstances.”

One can argue that Carvalho is an advocate who’s a school superintendent. He enjoys fulfillment in championing causes for the poor as part of his job.

"In one word it (being Superintendent) has been exhilarating," Carvalho said.


But life was not always easy for Carvalho. One of six children, he grew up poor in a one bedroom apartment in Lisbon, Portugal. Carvalho mentored his younger brother who today is a surgeon. Perhaps it was here that Carvalho would learn to become a tireless advocate in helping turnaround the lives of the poor.

He left his native country for America where he took odd jobs as in construction and restaurants in New York and Miami. He slept in in a U-Haul truck while attending Broward College.

Even with a steel demeanor, Carvalho wears his emotions on his sleeve and is proud of it.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said candidly.

As long as emotions include a purpose and achievements, Carvalho is fine with showing intensity.

In 1990, Carvalho became the first in his family to graduate from college when received his bachelor’s degree in Biology from Barry University. He then took a job teaching Biology and Chemistry at then predominately Black Miami Jackson Senior High School. Carvalho was eventually promoted to assistant principal at Jackson before working under his predecessor Rudy Crew, a controversial Superintendent who parted ways with the school board and left the system in ruins. Carvalho was promoted to the superintendent’s position in 2008, but the job would not be easy.

It was here that Carvalho would face one of the biggest challenges in his career. The public school system was close to bankruptcy from millions of bond debt. Numerous urban high schools, including Northwestern, Booker T. Washington, Edison and Central were on the verge of closing from consistent “F” grades. The majority of these schools had a graduation rate just above 50 percent.