PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – School board elections are still more than a year away, but the runway is a long one for candidates filing in a year of major changes to Florida schools.
In the Miami-Dade County District 7 race, a new candidate comes with a high profile, challenging a public school veteran already raising money in support.
“If there is one thing I know, it’s education,” said candidate Javi Perez, the former South Dade Senior High School principal who defied the odds after almost losing his life.
“Is it terrible? Absolutely. But my kids are going to have a father. You know, I’m not dead,” said Perez.
In 2016, he was struck by a car while coaching his son’s Little League baseball team.
He spent months in the hospital, undergoing 26 surgeries after losing his legs.
“So the last six years, I’ve been looking for that something bigger,” said Perez.
Cuban born, he came to South Florida at the age of 7 and is the product of Miami-Dade Public Schools.
“I’ve been security monitor, a teacher, a coach, assistant principal, a principal,” Perez said.
After almost three decades in the school system, the former principal says his professional and personal experience makes him the right candidate.
Max Tuchman calls herself a Kendall girl.
She is also the product of public schools in Miami and is the daughter of Cuban immigrants who fled after the revolution.
It’s a family used to fleeing persecution.
“My grandparents are Holocaust survivors,” she said.
It’s partly why she feels an obligation to pay it forward.
After college, Tuchman joined Teach For America and ended up in the classroom at Miami Northwestern Senior High.
Fast forward to 2017, when she created an education interactive video calling platform called Caribu.
“So you can read, draw, play games together -- it’s all this virtual play date, but the idea is that kids are learning,” Tuchman said.
The app took off during the pandemic. Apple and Time called it one of the best out there.
Both Tuchman and Pérez are entering a race for a seat on a school board that has become a battle ground of culture wars.
Tuchman addressed a fiery meeting, where the Miami-Dade School Board rejected a month that recognizes the contributions LGBTQ+ people have made in history.
“That school board meeting was hard to watch,” she said. “All students need to learn everyone’s history.”
Tuchman and Pérez both agree the classroom has become too politicized.
“It’s a lot of noise,” said Perez.
For example, on sex education, Perez says content has to be age appropriate, but high school students should be learning as much as possible.
“Sometimes the student might feel more comfortable asking a teacher at that age than a parent,” said Perez.
Then there is uproar over African American studies and the idea that slaves benefitted from being oppressed.
“I can’t ever imagine someone coming to me and saying, ‘You’re the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, they must have benefited from going through the Holocaust,’” Tuchman said.
To teachers who are often caught in the political cross hairs, Pérez has a message.
“In here, as long as you’re doing what’s best for the kids…you’re OK,” he said.
Both candidates, who bring an educational background, say the focus should shift back to kids.
“Student achievement is at the top of my list,” said Perez.
“As long as we always follow, is this best for our kids, we’ll be fine,” added Tuchman.
Both say they are looking forward to a politics-free campaign.
“As two educators who come from this community, I am hoping at the end of the day to do what’s best for kids and leave the politics out of it,” said Tuchman.