“We see ourselves in them.”

—Cecilia Sanchez, principal

  • Miami, Florida
  • Miami-Dade County School District
  • Grades PK- 5
  • Suburban
  • DTM awarded in 2013

School Overview

In a corner of the steamy campus of Florida International University sits Dr. Carlos J. Finlay Elementary School, which was recognized as a Dispelling the Myth school in 2013. Finlay serves children living nearby in the sprawling Li’l Abner Mobile Home Park in Sweetwater, Florida – mostly the children of recent immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean. Eighty-six percent of Finlay’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals and about half are still learning English.

The challenges they present are considerable, which only redoubles the resolve of faculty members, many of whom are themselves products of an earlier wave of immigration from Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s. “We see ourselves in them,” says the principal, Cecilia Sanchez.

That empathy leads the faculty to provide a combination of expert instructional practice and a nurturing culture that together drive student achievement.

Instruction is in both English and Spanish, with the aim of ensuring that all students are literate in both languages – that is, able to read with comprehension and write with clarity. By continually reviewing and reflecting on assessment data, sometimes formalized as action research projects with University of Florida professors, teachers are able to know with certainty what works with which kids. This intensive professional culture is built on a deeper culture of respect and caring that prompts many on the faculty and staff to call Finlay their “second family.”

The results? Higher percentages of Finlay’s students meet state reading and math standards than in the rest of the state, making it one of the top-performing schools not only in the Miami-Dade School District but in the entire state of Florida.

Its mascot is an unusual choice – the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which the school’s namesake discovered was the transmission vector for Yellow Fever. Naturally, the official slogan of the Finlay “Skeeters” is: “Teachers and staff transmit knowledge and love to students who have the fever to learn!”
Updated 2013

“Curriculum and Standards Are Not the Same,” an op-ed carried by McClatchey News Services talks about how Dr. Carlos Finlay Elementary School is putting Common Core State Standards into action.

“Leading Coherence” by Karin Chenoweth features Cecilia Sanchez, principal of Finlay Elementary.

A Huffington Post article by Karin Chenoweth profiles Dr. Carlos J. Finlay Elementary School.

School website

District website

Great Schools profile

More information about academic achievement in Florida