Since arriving in Detroit two months ago, new schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti has been assembling a team of educators, lawyers — even investment bankers — to support his effort to improve the city’s struggling schools.
Among people he’s leaning on are some familiar figures in Detroit like former Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather and longtime district facilities chief Felicia Venable. But Vitti’s team includes many new arrivals he lured from his last job as Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida. Also on the list are several people who served as top officials in the Education Achievement Authority, the defunct state recovery district that took over 15 Detroit schools in 2012. The EAA schools returned to the main Detroit district on July 1.
Here’s a look at who Vitti is turning to for advice, what they’ll be doing — and how much they’ll be paid.
Chief Operating Officer
Duties: Oversee the internal daily functions of district departments; serve as the bridge between the superintendent and district departments, initiatives and programs.
Last job: Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Collier County Public Schools, Naples, Fla.
His story: An Army veteran and former teacher, principal and assistant principal, Solano, a fluent Spanish speaker, worked with Vitti in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools district. He has degrees in special education from Florida International University, a master’s degree in Business Administration from Nova Southeastern University and will soon complete a doctorate in education from the University of West Florida.
Deputy Superintendent of Schools
Duties: Oversee the daily operations of schools; manage and lead principal supervisors and indirectly principals; oversee leadership development, counseling, mental health services, discipline, school police, athletics, school improvement, and the needs of homeless students and those who are learning English.
Last job: Chief of Schools, Duval County Public Schools, Jacksonville, Fla.
Her story: Wright worked in Duval schools for 25 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal until Vitti tapped her for the district’s central office. Most recently she led the district’s high-profile “transformation” office which oversaw 36 high-need, low-performing schools. She has education degrees from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
Deputy Superintendent of External Partnerships and Innovation
Duties: Lead district efforts with business, non-profit, and philanthropic communities; oversee career and technical programs, examination schools, and enrollment efforts.
Last job: Interim Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Her story: The Detroit native and Detroit Public Schools grad has worked in the district for 22 years including 12 years as a science teacher. She worked in the district’s Office of Science and its curriculum office before becoming its top education official in 2016. She has education degrees from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University and is currently pursuing a a doctorate at Wayne State.
Senior Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Duties: Leads the districtwide work of early learning, literacy, mathematics, social studies, and science; leads districtwide work for core professional development; manages curriculum adoption process.
Last job: Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction, Duval County Public Schools.
Her story: Gonzalez has spent most of her 17-year career in the Duval County schools, working as a fifth-grade math teacher, a curriculum specialist, a data coordinator and a supervisor of test development. She worked for the Florida state education department before returning to the district to work for Vitti. She has education degrees from the University of North Florida and is pursuing a doctorate at the University of South Florida.
Senior Executive Director of Talent
Duties: Oversee districtwide human resources functions, including recruiting teachers, on-boarding, fingerprinting, and labor relations.
Last Job: Chief Operating Officer, Future Ready Columbus in Ohio.
His story: Donaldson was briefly the principal of the Detroit Institute of Technology, one of the small schools inside Cody High School from July 2013 to February 2014 before leaving the district to join the Education Achievement Authority as associate chancellor. He left Detroit briefly this year for the job in Ohio before returning to work for Vitti. He also taught school as a Teach For America fellow in Baltimore and worked in the New York City Department of Education. He has degrees from Eastern Michigan University, Johns Hopkins University and a master’s in education from Harvard University.
Senior Executive Director of Facilities, Transportation, Food Service and Maintenance.
Duties: Lead districtwide management and implementation of facilities, transportation, food service, and maintenance.
Last job: Executive Director of Facilities, Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Her story: Worked for the Detroit district in various roles since 2000 after a stint as a health inspector and analyst for the city of Detroit. She has degrees from Tennessee State University, Wayne State University and Walsh College.
Senior Executive Director for Strategic Planning and Project Management
Duties: Oversee district strategic plan, goals, and targets; manage district project management system; develop evaluation tools and performance targets.
Last Job: Assistant Superintendent, Strategic Planning and Partnerships, Duval County Public Schools.
Her story: Cutrona worked as an English teacher for three years in Miami before going to work for The New Teacher Project, an advocacy organization. In 2015, she interviewed Vitti for the organization’s blog. She went to work for him in 2016. She has a degree from Hamilton College.
Senior Executive Director of Family and Community Engagement
Duties: Lead districtwide community and family engagement efforts.
Last Job: Executive Director, Detroit Parent Network.
Her story: The Detroit native has been running the city’s largest parent network since 2005. The organization said it expanded its membership by 12 times during her time at the helm. She also worked as an administrator at the Michigan Metro Girl Scouts Council, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit and the Warren/Connor Development Coalition. She has a master’s degree from New Hampshire College.
Senior Executive Director of Information Technology
Duties: Oversee districtwide information technology systems; manage compliance and reporting functions for accountability and assessment (i.e. district and state testing).
Last Job: Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Data, Technology and Assessment at Old Redford Academy School District.
Her story: Burkett started her career as a science tech, chemistry and robotics teacher at Detroit’s Crockett Tech and Redford High Schools before going to work for charter schools. She has served as a curriculum and assessment coordinator for the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences High School and as a top official at the Old Redford Academy. She also worked for private sector firms including General Motors where she developed training for new employees and created online training courses. She has degrees from Delaware State University, Marygrove College, Capella University and a doctorate in educational psychology and technology from Michigan State University.
Senior Executive Director of Research, Evaluation, and Analytics
Duties: Leads the districtwide work of internal and external research. Evaluates district programs; manages data analytics to anticipate districtwide challenges and opportunities; develops policy analysis to guide district strategy.
Last job: Vice-President, Data & Research, Jacksonville Public Education Fund.
His story: Rose worked as an elementary school teacher in Georgia for four years before going into research as he pursued a doctorate in early childhood intervention and literacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s worked for the Jacksonville education fund since 2011. He also has degrees from Ithaca College and Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia.
Salary: being negotiated
Duties: Manages complex, high-level and visible special projects across departments to ensure execution.
Last job: Chairman, URGE Development Group and URGE Imprint.
His story: While Hardamon’s development group is pursuing a $77 million housing and retail development in Detroit’s midtown neighborhood, his strategic consulting group helped lead the effort to re-integrate the EAA schools with the main Detroit district. Before moving to Detroit, Hardamon worked as a New York investment banker and hedge fund manager for Citigroup and related firms. He has a degree from Morehouse College.
Executive Director of Compliance and Special Assistant to the Superintendent
Duties: Manages follow-up activities of federal and state audit findings; oversees development of board committee and board meeting agenda; coordinates and follows up on superintendent issues with the board.
Last Job: Executive Director of Compliance, Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Her story: As an attorney with the Clark Hill lawfirm, Howard represented the Detroit Retirement System in Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy proceedings. She came to work for Detroit schools last year as an unpaid consultant to Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes. She later spent six months as a senior legal advisor to the EAA before joining the main Detroit district in the compliance role in December. Howard graduated from from Georgetown law school and clerked for a federal judge in Maryland. She also has a degree from Howard University.
Duties: Lead districtwide efforts to identify and investigate fraud, malfeasance, corruption; tentatively positioned to lead internal auditing to identify audit concerns before federal and state audits. This position reports to the school board but is led administratively by the superintendent.
Last job: Inspector General, Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Her story: Kakooza has spent her entire 20-year career in the district, working as an auditor and accountant for Office of Internal Audit, the Office of the Inspector General and at Cass Technical High School. She is a certified fraud examiner with degrees from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and the University of Detroit Mercy.
Interim chief financial officer
Salary: $25,000 a month per contract (includes additional support personnel, no health benefits).
Duties: Oversee districtwide functions for budget, finance, payroll, contracting, and federal programs.
Last job: Chief Restructuring and Financial Officer, Wayne County.
His story: Saunders has advised many school districts and government agencies in Michigan and around the country and worked for a firm that helped the city of Detroit through its bankruptcy. He has a degree from the University of Michigan.
Interim Senior Executive Director of Communications and Marketing
Duties: Lead districtwide internal and external communications, including development and implementation of marketing plan.
Last job: Deputy Executive Director of Communications and Press Secretary, Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Her story: Wilson served as communications director for the EAA before joining the main Detroit district in 2015. She previously worked for a private PR firm. She has a degree from Wayne State University.
Chief Legal Counsel (This position is posted for interviews)
Duties: Lead districtwide efforts in legal review and guidance; oversees board policy and development.
Last job: General Counsel, Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Her story: The Detroit resident has worked for the district, first as a deputy general counsel then as general counsel, since 2005. Prior to that she was in private practice. She has degrees from Wayne State University and the University of Michigan Law School.