getting started

Daily school visits and more: Here’s Nikolai Vitti’s plan for his first 100 days as Detroit superintendent

PHOTO: Duval County Public Schools
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti visits classrooms in Duval County, Florida on the first day of school in 2016.

When new Detroit schools chief Nikolai Vitti arrives in Detroit as soon as next Monday, he plans to make daily school visits with an early focus on some of the city’s most struggling schools.

Those visits will include trips to the schools in the state-run Education Achievement Authority, which are set to return to the Detroit district this summer amid deep uncertainty.

Vitti will also meet with a long list of Detroiters as he tries to develop what he says would be the district’s first “strategic plan.”

Those are some of the details in the 100-day plan that Vitti shared with Detroit school board members during his interview process. He sent a copy to Chalkbeat over the weekend; read it below.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Saturday, Vitti said major changes to the district won’t happen immediately.

He expects to keep most school principals in place as he begins to get his bearings in Detroit, he said, though he’ll be looking for improvements he can make right now.

“The question for me is … do I have a window to make some adjustments at the district level moving into the beginning of the year?” he asked.

By next year, Vitti plans to convert the district to a “zero-based budgeting” system, which starts the budgeting process from scratch rather than basing next year’s budget on last year’s spending. (He used that approach in his Florida district.)

But for now, he said, he’s focused on an “engagement process” that will include teachers, parents, administrators and community leaders in identifying problems and solutions.

Vitti told Chalkbeat that he plans to put together a leadership team in Detroit that will include a “good balance” between current Detroit educators and people he plans to recruit from elsewhere.

“A balance between the two … allows for good strategy conversations about what direction we need to move in,” he said.

Among veteran Detroiters who could be part of his team is Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather, whom many Detroiters wanted to see appointed to the position permanently.

“I’ve been impressed with the work that she’s done as interim superintendent,” Vitti told Chalkbeat.

Here’s Vitti’s 100 day plan:

Looming threat

Report: Looming financial threats could undermine ‘fresh’ start for new Detroit district

The creation of a new school district last year gave Detroit schools a break from years of crippling debt, allowing the new district to report a healthy budget surplus going into its second year.

It’s the first time since 2007 that the city’s main school district has ended the year with a surplus.

But a report released this morning — just days after Superintendent Nikolai Vitti took over the district — warns of looming financial challenges that “could derail the ‘fresh’ financial start that state policymakers crafted for the school district.”

The report, from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, notes that almost a third of the district’s $64 million surplus is the cost savings from more than 200 vacant teaching positions.

Those vacancies have caused serious problems in schools including classrooms crammed with 40 or 50 kids. The district says it’s been trying to fill those positions. But as it struggles to recruit teachers, it is also saving money by not having to pay them.

Other problems highlighted in the report include the district’s need to use its buildings more efficiently at a time when many schools are more than half empty. “While a business case might be made to close an under-utilized building in one part of the city, such a closure can create challenges and new costs for the districts and the families involved,” the report states. It notes that past school closings have driven students out of the district and forced kids to travel long distances to school.

The report also warns that if academics don’t improve soon, student enrollment — and state dollars tied to enrollment — could continue to fall.

Read the full report 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.”