MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's go to Florida now, where officials leading the state's largest school system - Miami-Dade school district - have just announced that schools will reopen tomorrow for the first time since Hurricane Irma. Now, Miami-Dade isn't just Florida's biggest school district, with more than 300,000 students, it's one of the nation's biggest. But Miami's schools have had to do more than educate kids recently.
Forty-two of the district's schools were turned into emergency shelters during the storm. The district is still working on restoring power in a handful of schools ahead of tomorrow's opening. And on top of all of that, the Miami-Dade district schools will open not only for its students, but also those who live in the Florida Keys, which sustained serious damage. Alberto Carvalho is the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. We spoke with him earlier this weekend, and he told us what it would take to open the schools by tomorrow.
ALBERTO CARVALHO: Shutting down the shelters, clearing debris inside the schools, clearing debris outside of the schools, recognizing the downed power lines and trees, you know, driving - dry runs of our school buses to ensure safe access to schools and the never-ending process of restoring power. And that is the biggest issue that we continue to face one day before - where we start school.
MARTIN: You've made the offer to take in students from Monroe County. That's the area of the Florida Keys. Many people who've been following the news realize just how devastated that area has been. Are they going to take you up on that offer? does it seem likely that you will also be educating some of the 13,000 students who live on the Keys as well?
CARVALHO: Look. What separates the Keys from Miami-Dade is nothing but one bridge. And I thought it would be important for us to make that offer. I suspect a number of them will enroll in our schools until the situation stabilizes because I believe some schools that were built like bunkers in the Keys survived the storms, but the homes themselves are destroyed. So parents will be making choices until such time as there is power and water to the Keys. Where will my kid go to school?
MARTIN: I'm imagining for some people this will have been a very traumatic experience. Have you even started thinking about how you're going to talk about this in school? Or are you going to talk about this in school?
CARVALHO: Certainly. So in advance of the storm, we actually made accessible to parents and kids and teachers resources to address the social, emotional, the psychological issues in our community, where 75 percent of the people live below the poverty level. There are a lot of kids who depend on subsidized meals in our school system for often what we believe is the only meal they'll eat. I believe they really went through a rough patch. And we expect the very first day not to be a typical educational day, to be a come-together day, a community reactivating because there's nothing that spells normalcy more than kids coming back to school.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, Superintendent, can I ask you, how are you doing?
CARVALHO: I am an optimist by nature. I was an immigrant to this country, grew up in poverty. I was homeless in this country at one point. So what we've gone through is familiar territory for me. And I see myself in the eyes of the kids that we serve right now. And this is both an honor and a privilege to lead this district during a time when so many in our community are facing so much hardship.
MARTIN: That was Alberto Carvalho. He's the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Mr. Superintendent, thank you so much for speaking with us. I hope we'll speak again.
CARVALHO: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.