School board votes on MAST Academy expansion
MIAMI (WSVN) -- The Miami-Dade School Board has decided to move forward with a controversial multi-million-dollar expansion plan that could triple enrollment at one of South Florida's premier magnet schools.
Hundreds attended a school board meeting Wednesday, to discuss the possibility of expanding the Maritime and Science Technology Academy, a prestigious magnet school located in Virginia Key.
A little over 500 students attend MAST, and the school accepts freshmen who meet very stringent academic requirements, including GPA, advanced middle school courses, attendance and conduct.
To the east of MAST Academy lies the Village of Key Biscayne, which currently has no high school and an overcrowded K-8 center. During Wednesday's school board meeting, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, "Every single child who lives in Key Biscayne right now is 12 miles away from their neighborhood high school."
Officials with the Village of Key Biscayne agreed Tuesday night to address both issues by implementing the following plan: renovate the existing Key Biscayne K-8 Center; add a middle school to MAST Academy; and add seats to the MAST Academy high school. Key Biscayne students who qualify for enrollment would be considered first for a percentage of those seats.
The Village of Key Biscayne would pay $10 million toward the plan, and Miami-Dade County Schools would contribute $12 million over time, bringing the total cost to $22 million.
Key Biscayne residents said they are willing to pay up to make the expansion work for all involved. "While they're currently in the top 100, I know with the commitment of Key Biscayne residents and our students, we're gonna be in the top 10 when we're done," resident Leo Brito said.
One young Key Biscayne resident agreed. He said, "It would just be a great opportunity for many children."
However, many MAST parents and students are not happy with the expansion plan because they are worried that academics at MAST will suffer with the influx of students. "We see MAST Academy as a jewel in the Miami-Dade County School System," one parent said. "By diluting MAST Academy into a larger campus and student body, this jewel will not shine as brightly as it does today."
"We need to be very careful not to mess with success," said another parent.
MAST students like Michelle Garcia also spoke out against the plan. "It was exciting to go to a small school because everybody knows each other, and you have this relationship with your teachers," she said.
Another student said, "For these people to come in and try to take over my school, I find it a bit outrageous and ridiculous."
Superintendent Carvalho expressed his support of the plan, mentioning that creating a middle school at MAST Academy may encourage younger students to apply to attend the high school at the academy. He said, "This proposal, as a benefit to Key Biscayne, who's making a significant investment, and I believe as a guarantee that community schools are important."
After hearing from both sides, the school board gave preliminary approval to the plan. The district still needs to hash out the details of the expansion, which will likely occur in another meeting to be held in July.
If fully approved, the new school will open its doors in 2015. Officials are trying to fast-track the measure so the new students can begin attending MAST in the fall.
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