While the nation’s education world was focused this week on Betsy DeVos, proposed school budget cuts and the fight over who benefits from vouchers, the spotlight in Detroit was trained on Nikolai Vitti. The new superintendent got his final approval from the city Financial Review Commission on Monday and spent his first day Tuesday meeting with teachers and administrators about problems facing the district. Among his early conclusions: Detroit teachers need a raise.
“We have to become more competitive with pay. I don’t think that’s going to be done immediately, at scale, but it’s something that I will be looking closely at in concert with the school board to look at what does our budget look like right now? Where are some opportunities to do things differently? To increase pay?”
— Nikolai Vitti, superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District
Read on for more about Vitti and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. Also, check out the play that a group of Detroit student activists wrote and performed to help explain the recent political turmoil in Detroit education.
All about Vitti
- The Detroit Financial Review Commission, which has authority over all major district spending, gave Vitti the official green light to take over the district on Monday. The vote came despite commissioners’ concerns about the length of Vitti’s five-year contract and whether the district could afford his nearly $300,000 annual salary.
- On his first day on the job, Vitti got an earful about the need for the district to fill teacher vacancies.
- One challenge to doing that, he said, is low teacher salaries in the district and the fact that it’s harder to teach in the city than the suburbs. “We can’t just talk about the value that we have with teachers. We have to pay them accordingly,” he said.
- Vitti made those comments at a teacher job fair where 200 applicants applied for open district jobs. That’s a good start but the district is currently facing a 263-teacher shortage — and that’s without considering new hires that will be needed to fill vacancies created by retirements and by the expected departure of teachers from schools in the state reform district. The Education Achievement Authority schools are returning to the main district this summer.
- As Vitti worked the room at the job fair, he was accompanied by Alycia Meriweather. The former interim superintendent is now a senior advisor to Vitti but says she and Vitti are “discussing” a permanent role for her.
- In his first few days, Vitti visited several schools including MLK High School, Golightly Education Center and the Bates Academy
- As Vitti starts his new job, the Detroit News notes several forces — including the city teachers union — could block his path to success. But a News columnist and radio host writes that Detroiters need to put their trust in Vitti as he “takes the reins of one of the most publicly distrusted and vilified institutions in the city.”
- As Vitti prepared to leave his previous job running the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, a Florida columnist recalled Vitti’s frenetic “non-stop” pace in that job.
- In Jacksonville, Vitti was known as a “reformer who produces quick results,” the Detroit News writes in a story that notes Vitti’s rapid pace of change generated some tension with teachers and staff. The paper also reports that Vitti used tens of millions of dollars he attracted in philanthropy to recruit teachers to the Florida district.
In other Detroit news
- These Detroit student activists wrote a play about recent political turmoil in Detroit schools. Watch it here.
- A “family literacy” program at a school in southwest Detroit teaches immigrant parents to speak and read English in the same building where their children are learning. The program has dramatically reduced student absences.
- Activists are fighting to save the Detroit district’s award-winning lunch program.
- A Detroit mom says her son is facing expulsion after helping a student who was choked by a teacher. Video of the fight shows the teacher pushing the student.
- Today is the deadline to nominate a Detroit teacher for the Detroit Goodfellows’ annual Teacher of the Year Contest. Students in grades 3-8 can nominate their favorite teacher.
- Here’s the story of the events that almost led to a unified effort to help Detroit schools — almost.
- These Detroit students mix day jobs with school.
Across the state
- The head of Wayne County schools says the state’s current school funding system “simply no longer works for our students, regardless of where they attend school.”
- A bill that would let charter schools give enrollment preference to low-income students has advanced in the state house.
- The state’s lieutenant governor says he personally reached out to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about his concerns that the state’s plan to comply with new federal school accountability rules will shortchange children with disabilities.
- Lawmakers in the House and Senate forged ahead with bills to cut new teachers out of pensions and switch them to a 401(k)-type plan. Legislative experts say making newly hired teachers ineligible for a pension would cost the state $465 million more a year in the first five years. The Free Press says the proposal doesn’t stand up to scrutiny but the Republican House Speaker called it the “best way forward.”
- A House panel is considering legislation that would allow parents to enroll unvaccinated children in school without signing a waiver. Here’s what’s at stake in the debate and a database that lets parents look up the vaccination rate in their children’s school.
- About 61.5 percent of graduates from Michigan public high schools in 2016 were enrolled in college within six months of graduation, according to state data. Look up the college-going rates at individual high schools here. Here’s a list of the 53 schools with the highest college-going rate in the state.
- A GOP lawmaker makes the case for why the state should allow school districts to start the school year before Labor Day.
- A court hearing on the legality of $2.5 million included in the state budget to reimburse nonpublic schools for health and safety mandates was canceled. The appeals court hearing the case agreed to hear from several parties who believe they were wrongly denied the right to join the case as defendants.
- A Detroit News columnist highlights an Indiana student who received a voucher to contrast Michigan laws that bar public funds for private schools.
- This tiny Michigan school district has been in turmoil.
- The East Detroit school district has changed its name.
- The Detroit News named 24 local seniors to the paper’s list of “outstanding graduates.”
- A local high school gym was closed for bedbugs.