Week In Review

Week in review: Salary news for Vitti, uncertainty for Detroit teachers

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit schools, speaks in a video in Jacksonville, Fla., where he was superintendent before coming to Detroit.

With a new superintendent getting a (generous) contract as soon as tonight and school closings off the table for now, Detroit schools are starting to feel a bit more stable. But with just weeks to go before the end of the school year, teachers in the state-run Education Achievement Authority still don’t know what their salaries will be next year or who will be running their buildings. That has some fearing a mass teacher exodus that could hurt academic progress and create new challenges for children whose lives are already tumultuous.

“These children have very little stability in their lives. The people in this building are the only stable people they have.”

— Stefanie Kovaleski, kindergarten teacher, Bethune Elementary-Middle School

 

Read on for more on this story and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. Plus, our series on Detroiters telling their school stories this week features a Detroit student who says her school helped make her the active, successful student she’s become. If you have a story to tell, or know someone who does, please let us know. Thanks!

In Detroit

  • EAA teachers are bracing for pay cuts when their district returns to the main Detroit school district this summer. They’re so frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations, they’re looking for other jobs.
  • This Detroit student credits her success to her Detroit public school. “DPS has expanded my horizon for me to see a whole new world,” she said, adding that her school has “given me opportunities to express myself and be who I am.”
  • Nikolai Vitti, the man selected to lead Detroit schools is reportedly close to signing a $295,000 contract, which will be the subject of a special school board  meeting tonight.
  • Vitti, who could start work in Detroit as soon as this month, will be one of the first speakers at a major business conference that will be held on Mackinac Island after Memorial Day.
  • A plan to move Durfee Elementary school into nearby Central High School has produced mixed reactions among parents and community members but a board member’s effort to stop the move was not successful at this week’s meeting.
  • As the Detroit teachers union negotiates its first contract with a district run by the new school board, its leaders penned an op/ed urging the district to “understand the important role that we play and negotiate with us accordingly.”
  • Detroit schools advocates will gather this weekend for the screening of a new documentary about school closings in Detroit and a discussion on the history and future of Detroit public schools.
  • This great Detroit teacher is proof that not all great teachers leave, a parent advocate and blogger writes.
  • Detroit teachers who were laid off in 2011 and not properly recalled will share in a $400,000 settlement approved this week by the Detroit school board.

 

Across the state

  • The partnership agreements that were signed to spare 38 struggling schools from being closed by the state look different in the nine districts that signed them. Here’s a breakdown.
  • Gov. Rick Snyder weighed in on the agreements, saying the schools are now “on a path to increased academic achievement” and calling for lawmakers to update the state’s school accountability law to set the stage for more such agreements.
  • The agreements “hold promise” if done right, but the “constantly changing target” of Michigan school reform is counter productive, a News columnist writes. “While these blueprints are crafted with good intentions by smart people, the churn has created a culture of “this too shall pass.”
  • State reports written on the 38 schools reveal a sober picture of the work that will need to be done to improve them. Among challenges: chronic absences, poor curriculums, insufficient resources and a lack of parental involvement. One of the Detroit schools lacked a certified English teacher for two years.
  • The state had conducted “hardship reviews” that could have spared schools from closures even without the partnership agreement but hid the details from a reporter who paid $2,160 to request the documents under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
  • A Michigan radio station is polling teachers to get a better idea of how much educators make in different parts of the state.
  • The state’s controversial school reform officer is up for a job in Tennessee (and is competing against another local school leader).
  • As lawmakers debate teacher pensions and 401k’s, teachers worry about the consequences.
  • The Kellogg Foundation awarded an “unprecedented” $51 million grant to Battle Creek Public Schools. The grant represents the foundation’s first effort to turn around a district from top to bottom. “This is monumental,” a New York University researcher said. “I haven’t seen anything like this – a philanthropy investing so much with a belief they can actually turn a system around.”
  • The head of a virtual school disputes claims from critics who think cyber schools should get less state funding than brick-and-mortar schools.
  • The state education department has established “transformation zones” in three counties to “improve instructional and innovation practices” in schools.
  • The state received a $10,000 grant to help create a Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council to support the state’s implementation of new federal accountability rules.

In other news

Week In Review

Week in Review: Discount houses — and new faces at the top of Detroit schools

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

The big news this morning is the announcement from Mayor Mike Duggan that Detroit teachers and school employees — district, charter and parochial — will now get 50% discounts on houses auctioned through Detroit’s Land Bank Authority. That could help draw more residents to the city — and possibly give school officials another perk they can use to attract teachers in their efforts to address severe teaching shortages.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future. It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.

— Mayor Mike Duggan

New schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti has said that hiring teachers is a priority. He’s also busily hiring a team of top advisors to help him run the Detroit schools. To do that, he’s drawing heavily from his Florida contacts. Of the 16 cabinet members he’s identified, five are people he worked with in Jacksonville or Miami. Want to learn more about them? We’ve assembled a gallery of who they are, what they’re doing and how much they’ll be paid.

Also this week, we featured the latest installment in our Story Booth series: An educator who says the inspiration she received from teachers in the Detroit Public Schools helped her guide one of her own students through a personal tragedy. If you know a student, parent or educator with a Detroit story to tell for a future Story Booth, please let us know.

In Detroit

  • Mayor Duggan is planning to announce details of the Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program at a press conference this morning.
  • The Floridians in Vitti’s cabinet are joined by veterans of the Detroit Public Schools and several officials who worked for the dissolved state-run recovery district. Among them are former teachers and principals, lawyers and a real estate developer.
  • This weekend’s March for Public Education — tomorrow in Clark Park — was organized by a local resident who couldn’t get time off work to attend the march in Washington.
  • Students who attended Southeastern High School last year won’t have to take a test to return in the fall — but new students will. The school will become the city’s fourth exam school. “I’m not going to suggest that in one year Southeastern is going to be Renaissance and Cass,” Vitti said, “but I think we can make it successful.”
  • A revived local restaurant association is working with Detroit schools to train students and grads for jobs in downtown and Midtown restaurants.
  • A Detroit schools advocate explains why the relationship between Detroit and the state is like that of a child and her abusive mother.
  • Detroit’s former “rebel lunch lady” now has plans to shake up school food in Houston.
  • Here’s how the work formerly done by the defunct Excellent Schools Detroit organization will be divvied up among other groups.
  • A convicted former Detroit principal has been given more time before she has to report to prison.

Across the state

  • Districts that sued the state to stop the forced closures of struggling schools are close to reaching a settlement. The state backed down on 38 proposed school closings but maintains the right to close persistently low-performing schools in the future.
  • Michigan is one of 23 states that did not meet all the federal requirements for educating its students with disabilities.
  • A fiscally conservative Michigan think tank has issued a helpful, comprehensive guide to how school funding works in Michigan.
  • These three early childhood centers demonstrate how schools can be community hubs. They offer medical and dental clinics and services such as job training for parents.
  • Michigan schools are changing their zero-tolerance discipline policies to comply with a new state law.
  • A state science and technology advisory council has chosen to invest in six STEM programs that have been proven effective for Michigan schools.

Teachers united

  • The state’s largest teachers union used a collection agency to force teachers to pay $241,000 in delinquent dues between 2013 and 2016.
  • A state teachers union leader says teachers getting summers off is a dated myth. Teachers “work second and even third jobs to support their families, while finding creative ways to prepare for the next school year,” he wrote.
  • A critic of teacher pension changes says the bill Gov. Rick Snyder signed last week will squeeze teachers and cost the state more money.

 

Week In Review

Week in review: Could Detroit’s main school district be entering unchartered territory?

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
New Detroit school superintendent Nikolai Vitti addresses reporters outside a teacher hiring fair on his first full day in the job.

Even as new superintendent Nikolai Vitti plows ahead with shaking up district leadership in his quest to improve the city’s 100-plus traditional schools, much of the focus this week has been on the future of the district’s charter schools.

The district has been overseeing charter schools for more than two decades. Now, Vitti says it potentially should get out of the charter school business to focus on traditional schools. That could lead to charter schools closing — like this one that the district quietly closed last month amid concerns about its poor financial footing.

Read on for more on these stories. And, if you have five minutes of your time to donate today, please give us some honest feedback. Help improve our journalism by taking Chalkbeat’s annual reader survey.

Chartering new territory

The shakeup

  • Vitti has overhauled the district’s executive leadership team, bringing in people he worked with in Florida, educators and leaders from the Detroit area, and former officials with the EAA.
  • Nearly all the people he’s hired have been teachers or principals — and he said at this week’s school board meeting, they’re “mission-driven.”
  • The changes have sent some longtime district administrators packing: Vitti has so far eliminated roughly 70 administrative positions. He also cut multiyear contracts and perks like car allowances from those who remain.
  • The district will run more efficiently now, he said. “I found that there were one and two positions within departments that were duplicated or responsibilities shared that could be streamlined,” he said, adding that the network structure that principals used to report to “led to communication and work product backlog.”

In Detroit

  • A year after Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that created the new Detroit Public Schools Community District, one former GOP leader writes why he thinks the “fresh start is working,” arguing that Detroit is “not the ‘wild west’ that defenders of the status quo say that it is.”
  • Plans to change the name of Southeastern High School hit a snag at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
  • District officials will try to renegotiate the controversial lease, signed by a state-appointed emergency manager on his last day on the job in December, that turned a west-side elementary school over to a nonprofit group. That negotiation isn’t likely to satisfy the biggest critics of the deal.
  • The district says this year’s graduates have collectively earned $170 million in college scholarships and grants.
  • Limited access to quality early childhood education has a high cost in Detroit.
  • A state health and safety agency has fined the district for unsafe water at one school.
  • A water main break closed one of the schools serving this week as a “summer fun center.”
  • One of the city’s Head Start providers has picked up a $12.5 million grant to serve 168 more west side children and their families.

From the capitol

  • The state’s top education official says conversations with the federal government have been “combative” since the state abandoned plans to assign letter grades to schools in favor of a “dashboard” that compiles data in a variety of categories. The state is preparing to begin discussions with the U.S. education department over how it complies with new federal education laws.
  • The Detroit News is unimpressed with Snyder’s school improvement efforts, saying they’ve “ended up being more about optics than the substantial changes Michigan families deserve.”
  • Snyder signed a controversial teacher pension overhaul into law. The plan will take effect next year.
  • An advocate says the state’s 56 intermediate school districts need to be more transparent about how they collectively spend $1.6 billion on special education and other services.
  • Another advocate makes the case for why schools should focus on a broad-based education — rather than career readiness.