Grantee Corner  |  Miami-Dade County Public Schools



Located in southeastern Florida, Miami-Dade County covers 2,000 square miles, making it larger geographically than the states of Rhode Island or Delaware. The county is the most populous in Florida; it has a larger population than 15 other states and has the highest proportion of immigrants among metropolitan areas in the country—51 percent of county residents were born outside the United States.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) is the fourth largest school district in the country, serving nearly 345,000 students, of whom 91 percent are minority and 73 percent are economically disadvantaged. The student population also includes 68,000 English language learners and 34,000 students with disabilities. The county’s vision for 21st century education calls for every student to have a postsecondary education and career plan. This plan will help students succeed in a fast-moving, highly technological global society that increasingly emphasizes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

BioTECH @ Richmond Heights 9-12 High School, funded by a Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant, opened to its first class of ninth graders in August 2014. The first conservation biology magnet high school in the United States, it features two magnet strands: botany and zoology. The school has three campuses, of which two are located in a botanical garden and zoological park. Grant funds provide access to research equipment and supplies that rival the resources of some postsecondary institutions and give students opportunities to conduct authentic scientific research. The students at BioTECH are committed to exploring, researching, and conserving a world of biodiversity. They have one-of-a-kind experiences to help them develop as researchers in a variety of STEM fields including zoology, botany, genetics, ecology, chemistry, and environmental sciences. 

Students at BioTECH enter the world of investigative research during “Get Set for BioTECH,” a two-week, MSAP-funded, summer bridge program that acquaints students with the school’s unique technologies, data analysis, scientific methodologies, and instrumentation. Students attend full-day orientations at each of the satellite campuses. Once enrolled, they participate in projects such as tracking, monitoring, and rearing critically endangered and indigenous species of butterflies; culturing and propagating native and critically threatened orchid species; collecting necropsy data on invasive fish species in Biscayne National Park; monitoring and studying reproduction of critically endangered bats; and testing bait/trap designs for invasive species of reptiles in Everglades National Park.

Partners include Discovery Education, Zoo Miami, the Zoological Society of Florida, and Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, all of which help BioTECH deliver an interdisciplinary, rigorous, and relevant STEM high school program unlike any other in the country. Teachers collaborate with partners to develop curricula, and teachers also receive an array of MSAP-funded professional development opportunities. The latter include training on using project-based learning and on the using media-rich digital resources and digital textbooks.

The M-DCPS grant administrative team consists of co-project directors and a project coordinator. Co-director Dr. Robert Strickland oversees and directs the district office of School Choice & Parental Options; he has more than 20 years as an administrative leader with M-DCPS. Co-director Vanassa Washington has more than 25 years of experience with M-DCPS in administrative leadership, community relations, and curriculum development. She provides project oversight and serves as the project’s Business and Community Partnership Facilitator. Project coordinator Susan O’Connor has more than 37 years of experience in the district and 15 in magnet education: she coordinates and guides project implementation, serves as liaison between project partners and the district, and provides curricular support. 

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