The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School

CavsConnect

The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School

CavsConnect

The student news site of Coral Gables Senior High School

CavsConnect

Serving Children Across Miami, Mr. Jim Haj Returns to Gables

Bestowed the title of “Principal of the Day,” he brings his mission of Children’s Trust to the Cavaliers
Standing+in+front+of+the+original+Cavalier+statue%2C+Mr.+Haj+spends+his+last+moments+as+a+Cavalier+with+principal+Mr.+Ullivarri.
Olivia Russo
Standing in front of the original Cavalier statue, Mr. Haj spends his last moments as a Cavalier with principal Mr. Ullivarri.

Engaging in heartfelt conversations with students and teachers on a sense of renewed inspiration for the Cavalier lifestyle, the annual tradition of inviting influential members around Miami-Dade County into an authentic look at the operations of Coral Gables Senior High for “Principal of the Day” was Children’s Trust President and Chief Executive Officer Mr. Jim Haj. Bringing not just his title but his passion for serving the youthful energy of all ages across the district, Mr. Haj’s extensive career provides a trip down memory lane on education.

Having previously visited the Gables campus in the 2000s as a guest, his new priority as principal for Dec. 11, was to get a firsthand observation of the dynamic atmosphere. Deciding to tour around the school with principal Mr. Ullivarri, Mr. Haj first visited the 9000 and 6000 buildings.

Walking through the hallways and getting an insight into all of the five academic programs and extracurricular Gables offers, he then walked to see the Little Cavaliers Preschool and sat down with the Gables’ administration on plans for the 2024-2025 school year. Before leaving, Mr. Haj visited classrooms where he gave future advice to the Cavaliers and his mission at the Children’s Trust.

“What makes Gables so special is that it really motivates students to want to come to school and become infused with the spirit of being a Cavalier. It almost reminds me of the days when I was a principal at Southwest Miami High,” Mr. Haj said.

Sitting down with Gables’ Math Department Chair, Dr. Lisa Barrocas, Mr. Haj gets a summary on enrollment. (Olivia Russo)

Before positioning himself as a focal point of inspiration across Miami-Dade, Mr. Haj dedicated himself to restructuring his alma mater from 2005 to 2011 as a principal for Southwest Miami. During his term, Southwest Miami became one of seven schools in the U.S. to receive distinguished recognition from the National Academy Foundation. Alongside winning recognition efforts as the 2010 Region 4 Principal of the Year, he would transfer as the next Administrative Director for the Central Region Office in 2013.

“As a student, I went to Southwest Miami and I went back there as a principal. I never thought I was going to return as a principal nevertheless be a region director and assistant superintendent, but I think those leadership roles, relationships, how to interact with people and how to oversee large organizations helped lead the way to putting my name on the ballot for the position in 2016 from over 100 qualified people. The message is to put yourself out there and as a young person ready to enter college, it is really to be challenging and put yourself out there and in uncomfortable decisions so that you can grow,” Mr. Haj said.

Winning the election as the next leader of the Trust in 2016, Mr. Haj found it hard to leave his position at M-DCPS for 13 years. Despite the different lines of work of impacting children, Mr. Haj’s new role allowed him to continue supporting families across Miami-Dade.

“I spent my entire career working for the children across Miami-Dade. I spent 25 years in the school system, I was a principal for many years, and I had many leadership roles before I left. At the Trust, we continue impacting children and families. We fund over $200 million annually to support after-school, summer programs and various events throughout the community. I was just walking around Gables and there’s a health clinic with nurses. That is Trust funded, and we support 150 schools with clinics and put 36,000 kids in programs. I am very proud of our work,” Mr. Haj said.

Visiting Mrs. Vasquezbello’s class during period four, Mr. Haj and Mr. Ullivarri talk to the sophomore class about the Trust’s involvement in Gables. (Olivia Russo)

Now eight years in, the Trust, under Mr. Haj’s leadership, has been able to raise awareness for the future of supporting education. Despite going through high hurdles such as COVID-19, Mr. Haj alongside the 33-member board has been able to develop new afterschool programs in schools for children with disabilities and foster care youth whilst publishing 40,000 books to children every month in both English and Spanish.

“What motivates me is the work and its mission to support children and families. Every parent loves their child, but some parents need some additional support. Some work two to three jobs every day, while others have a child with a disability or may have other needs that make it hard, so we focus on how to make those parents the best as possible. Having 36,000 children in afterschool programs just helps elevate the parents not having to rush home after work and knowing that their child is in a safe place, in homework assistance and academic, social and physical support. In the summer too, when the parents have to work, we help make sure that there is a quality childcare center available across Miami by continuing to have the children learn,” Mr. Haj said.

Through it all, Mr. Haj has created a coalition of advocate groups and non-profit organizations, all supporting a common cause: children. While being Principal of the Day is not enough to justify the epitome of what he represents, his continued inspiration to return to Gables and fund the health clinic cements him as a forever Cavalier.

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About the Contributors
Aaron Rojas, CavsConnect Features Editor
Entering his third year in CavsConnect, Aaron Rojas is the newest editor on the team for Features. As he enters the ranks of rising juniors in the International Baccalaureate program, Aaron dedicates his afternoons to various school clubs such as the French Honor Society, IBHS, Gables Interact and Mock Trial. Aaron is a proud '06 natal year with having the ability to drive now, except for the moments he remembers Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet that same year. Despite his penchant for restful Zzz's, Aaron indulges in taking up the many responsibilities of a young adult, such as by reading text articles on Apple News while sipping a half glass of celery juice every morning. Sensing the countdown to graduation standing at under two years, Aaron's ultimate major choice remains veiled in uncertainty. For now, Aaron hopes to keep his friends and classmates smiling around him before his unshakeable self-assurance points to a path that will undoubtedly be his perfect fit.  
Olivia Russo, CavsTV Video Editor
Olivia Russo is a sophomore in the IB program at Coral Gables Senior High. This is her second year in CavsTV, and she is already a video editor along with her partner Lauren Kaler. She’s happy to be a part of something and able to share her hobby of video making with her staff. Throughout her second year at Coral Gables Senior High, she is excited to be in a high position of her publication and also ecstatic by being co-president of her club The Garden Project Some of her favorite things to do at Gables are going to games, playing with her friends on the girls soccer team, going to pep rallies, and being able to be as involved with her school as possible. Olivia is happy to join the Gables Garden Project this year because, just like her co-president Paz Chico, she cares deeply about her planet and how we can better our school through a garden and composting. Olivia’s favorite sport is soccer which is why this will be her second year on the girls team. She’s looking to join more clubs and find others with the same interests as her that can really make her next 3 years enjoyable. Next year, she starts the IB Program (because as of now, she’s in Pre-IB), and she’s looking forward to all the hard work and dedication she will have to show through that. In her free time, she mostly likes to spend time with her friends and go to the beach. She all loves to travel which has been a big part of her life ever since she was born. She loves traveling to Spain because she has a house there in a village where she can spend time with the people who’ve known her the longest. Olivia is a very competitive person and doesn’t like to give up when given a challenging project. She’s looking forward to doing really successful things in life and believes that Gables will ensure that.
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