Detroit's future

To protect 24 schools from closure, the Detroit school board made a deal with the state. This is what it says, and doesn’t say

Exactly what changes are in store for 24 low-performing Detroit schools remains unclear — even after the school board signed a deal sparing them from closure.

The Detroit school board this week signed a “partnership agreement” with state officials that was required to keep the schools from being closed by the state. The schools were among 38 Michigan schools targeted for closure because they had been in the bottom 5 percent of state rankings for three years in a row. But in the face of strong political and community pressure, officials agreed to give districts a chance to partner with the state to avoid forced closures.

The agreement the Detroit school board signed Thursday night is not yet a plan to improve the schools. Instead, it gives the district a deadline of July 31, 2017 to outline “goals and strategies” for the schools and a deadline of Jan. 31, 2018, to have conversations with school communities about those goals. In exchange, the schools won’t face closure for at least three years.

Further details are notably absent. The agreement gives the district some new flexibility with respect to state reporting and spending rules and requires the district to “develop and refine goals and strategies” for affected schools. The schools will have to meet targets that remain undefined.

The isn’t the first time the state has required the district to come up with a plan to improve the schools. All of the schools under the partnership agreement had to have formal improvement plans in past years because of their status on the state’s list of Priority Schools. It’s unclear how any changes emerging from the partnership agreement would be more effective than the changes promised under those plans.

Read the full agreement here:

familiar face

Former interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather ‘discussing’ new role in Detroit district under superintendent Nikolai Vitti

New Detroit superintendent Nikolai Vitti greets principals and job applicants with former Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather at a district job fair.

When Nikolai Vitti worked a teacher hiring fair Tuesday night, the new Detroit superintendent brought a partner — a familiar face — to stand beside him.

It was Vitti’s first full day running the Detroit Public Schools Community District. And although he was the new guy in a room full of school principals, administrators and job applicants, he stood side-by-side with someone more well-known: Alycia Meriweather, the district veteran who served for 14 months as interim superintendent until Vitti took over this week.

Whether Meriweather’s presence at the hiring fair suggests a permanent role for her in Vitti’s administration hasn’t yet been decided, she said. “We’re discussing that right now. He has made it clear that there is a position for me and, right now, it’s just a matter of me having further dialog with him about what that might look like and figure out if it’s a good fit for me.”

The news of Meriweather possibly staying on in the district could be comforting to the teachers and staff who strongly urged the school board to consider Meriweather for the permanent post. Teachers circulated petitions and protested outside a board meeting during a finalist interview after Meriweather was dropped from consideration.

For now, Meriweather is officially a senior advisor to Vitti — a role that will last at least until the end of June.

“My main focus right now is making sure this transition is as smooth as possible,” Meriweather told Chalkbeat. “Dr. Vitti and I have had really good conversations. I think we see things very similarly and he’s made it very clear that his intention is to build on the work that’s been done, which is very affirming and encouraging.”

For now, Meriweather, who is a graduate of the district and has worked in Detroit as a classroom teacher and administrator throughout her career, said she’s focused on a smooth transition.

“I really, at the heart of hearts, just want the district to continue to evolve,” she said. “I need him to be successful because if he’s successful, the district is successful, which means my kids are taken care of.”

Pay check

New Detroit superintendent: Detroit teachers deserve a pay raise (eventually)

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
On his first day as Detroit schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, with former interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, greets principals at a teacher hiring fair at Martin Luther King Jr. High School.

On his first full day as Detroit’s new superintendent, Nikolai Vitti had this message for the city’s teachers: You deserve a pay raise.

“We can’t just talk about the value that we have with teachers. We have to pay them accordingly,” Vitti told reporters Tuesday on a busy first day that included radio interviews, meetings with district staff and sit-downs with school board members.

“The teaching job in Detroit is much harder than the teaching job in surrounding suburban districts and we have to pay to that level,” Vitti said.

Vitti made his remarks outside a hiring fair at Martin Luther King Jr. High School where district officials were hoping to fill hundreds of vacancies.

A persistent teacher shortage has saddled the district with overcrowded classrooms — some with as many as 40 to 50 kids — and with long-term substitutes who don’t have the credentials to effectively teach subjects like math and science.

It’s an issue that comes up repeatedly when Vitti talks to Detroit educators, he said.

“Time and time again, you’re hearing issues of too many vacancies, loss of prep time, too-large class sizes and we need to address that issue immediately,” said Vitti who noted that his first day included long talks with the district Human Resources director as well as leaders of the city teachers union to discuss teacher hiring.

Vitti’s immediate plans for addressing the shortage include trying to streamline the teacher hiring process. He’ll also be looking at ways to redirect teachers from administrative and support roles to get them back into classrooms.

But the key to recruiting and retaining teachers, he said, will be to focus on salaries.

“We have to become more competitive with pay,” he said. “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?

A pay raise is “not going to happen overnight,” he said. “But it’s something that we do have to think about long term if we’re going to recruit and retain teachers.”

The district is currently negotiating a contract with its teachers union. Union members have seen few pay raises in recent years as the district has struggled with financial difficulties.

Vitti officially took over the district Monday following a vote by the Financial Review Board, which oversees district finances. Here’s how he spent Tuesday, according to a district spokeswoman:

  • Dr. Vitti conducts morning  interviews
  • 8:30-11a.m. – Dr. Vitti meets with District leadership group. Dr. Vitti visits other DPSCD departments in the Fisher Building. Meets with DFT Representative
  • 11:30-1p.m. – (Lunch) One-on-one with Board Member
  • 1:30 -2p.m.  – School Tour – Golightly Education Center
  • 2-2:30p.m. – Open
  • 2:30-3p.m. School Tour King – New Add
  • 3:45 -4:15p.m. – Teacher Listening Session – King High School (20 teachers)
  • 4:30-5p.m. – DPSCD Teacher Fair – King High School
  • 5p.m.-6p.m. – One-on-one with Board Member
  • 6p.m. Opening Welcome – Academic Committee Meeting – King High School