Miami-Dade County Public Schools Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman has been a constant advocate for educators, parents and students for the past 26 years, and she is retiring with a record of accomplishment on their behalf.
Tabares Hantman, did not seek reelection to her District 4 seat.
“It includes my hometown of Miami Lakes, most of the City of Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens and goes [up to] unincorporated Dade to the Broward line,” Tabares Hantman said.
Tabares Hantman has lived in town for over 45 years. She loves her Loch Lomond neighborhood so much, she moved into a different home on the same block.
“That’s where we lived and my children grew up there,” Tabares Hantman said of the first house she shared with her late husband Arnold. That property was once owned by William Graham of the Graham family, who founded and developed Miami Lakes.
Tabares Hantman is close to the family. Her daughter grew up with Kendall Graham, a daughter of former U.S. Sen. and Fla. Gov. Bob Graham and his wife Adele.
“I am the godmother to Kendall,” Tabares Hantman said. “And I feel about and love the Graham family like my family.”
The feeling is mutual.
“To say that Perla is a force of nature would be an understatement,” said Stuart Wyllie, president and chief executive officer of The Graham Companies.
“I have known Perla and her family for over thirty years and have always been amazed at what she has been able to accomplish for this community,” Wyllie said.
“Her work ethic, energy and integrity are unmatched and a high bar for others to try and emulate.
“While she may no longer be on the school board, her influence and legacy will continue to be felt for years to come,” Wyllie said. “On behalf of the Graham family, we wish her all the best.”
Tabares Hantman’s accomplishments are many. They include appointments by governors to the Florida Board of Medicine from 1987 to 1991 and then to the Florida Board of Governors.
“That was a big honor,” she said. “It was a big job, but it gave me a foundation to later on run for the school board.”
Her children were in elementary school when they spurred her to join the board, even though she had said she would never run for public office.
“But look, 26 years later I did it and I am loving every moment of it,” Tabares Hantman said.
In her more than two decades on the board she has chaired it for 14 terms, first being chosen by board members in 1999, a record for the board.
She was a role model for students in more ways than one and never missed a school board meeting, for which she received a perfect attendance medal. Tabares Hantman has worked together with five superintendents to lead a school district that has grown to be the fourth largest in the country.
One of them credits her for hiring him.
Former Supt. Alberto Carvalho, who currently leads the Los Angeles Unified School District, worked with her from 2008 to 2022.
They knew each other for many years, from when he was a teacher.
“I have a great deal of respect, friendship, affinity and affection for Perla, from before my superintendency to all the way through my superintendency,” Carvalho said.
Carvalho said together, they helped turn Miami-Dade into an A-rated district with no failing schools, an accomplishment he called “pretty stunning.”
He said he will always have a very special place in his heart for Tabares Hantman’s leadership, and on a personal level, for her friendship.
Current Supt. Jose Dotres has a professional relationship of two decades with Tabares Hantman that dates from when he was an assistant principal at M.A. Milam K-8 Center.
“Mrs. Hantman has the ability to turn a no to a yes when others cannot do it,” Dotres said. “She has been a stabilizing force [in the district].”
He called Tabares Hantman a role model, a mentor and said, “It’s been an honor to know her.”
Tabares Hantman is proud of her work for county schools and especially for those in her home district of northwest Miami-Dade County.
She described starting the Cambridge Academy at Miami Lakes Educational Center in 2005, making Jose Marti Middle School into Jose Marti MAST 6-12, which focuses on STEM education, and transforming Barbara Goleman Senior High School into a mega-magnet school, the second one in the county. Strengthening curriculum and raising standards in those schools helped keep kids enrolled and graduating, she said.
She also grew the college fair, which attracts 10,000 students and parents and is conducted in three languages.
She worked to enhance parental involvement and widen school choice and support for charter schools, she said.
“I have been very proud of that and of the South Florida Autism Charter School,” Tabares Hantman said of the new campus in northwest Hialeah that serves 200 students in grades K-12 who are from two counties.
She also increased bilingual education. As a fiscal conservative, she said she kept a close eye on budgetary policy for the school board.
Her school safety work includes the Safe Routes to Schools program, for which she secured $18 million in federal funding through the years.
“[It’s] to ensure students are safe [commuting] to and from school,” she said. “This I have been doing together with the [Transportation Planning Organization].”
Of her 26 years of service, Tabares Hantmann said she has felt pride for her work and for all of the time she has dedicated to the school board and the community.
“It has been an honor for me,” she said.