Detroit school news this week was dominated by new Detroit schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti as he made the rounds at the Mackinac policy conference.
Chalkbeat was covering education news at the conference and the Education Writers Association seminar in Washington. If you haven’t heard, Senior Detroit Correspondent Erin Einhorn won a national first place award for beat reporting at the EWA for her work covering Detroit schools. She also won the prestigious Ronald Moskowitz prize for Outstanding Beat Reporting. Join us in congratulating her.
WHO KNOWS? New Detroit schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti was getting advice at every turn during his first full week on the job. At a state policy conference, he said it was “miraculous” that educators could still do good work after experiencing years of “trauma.” One editorial said building strong relationships was key to Vitti’s success, and he traveled to Lansing to get advice from lawmakers about the Detroit district. An opinion writer proposed that academics, low enrollment and dealing with empty buildings should be among Vitti’s first priorities.
TEACHER COMPENSATION: Vitti hopes to attack a teacher shortage that resembles the talent shortage many industries face by likely giving a small pay bump to teachers in the new contract and eliminating administrative positions to move teachers back into the classroom. One columnist writes that teachers might be motivated to stay in the profession if they received better pay, more job satisfaction and more support from the community and lawmakers.
PENSION DEBATE: A newspaper editorial supports a Republican plan that would close the teachers pension system statewide to new members. An analysis shows that closing the teacher pension system to new hires would cost billions.
HOPE STARTS HERE: Two major Michigan foundations gathered business and political leaders at the policy conference to discuss strategies to “strengthen early childhood outcomes.” Good child care starts earlier than traditional preschool according to one study. Parents can rate the quality of their child’s learning center or home through a new online tool. Use the tool to pick an early learning center for your baby or young child.
COUNTING CHICKENS: A Michigan research organization reports that the “fresh” start given last year to Detroit’s main school district belies hidden problems that could hinder the district’s progress.
COME AGAIN: Detroit’s mayor wants revive a proposal for a Detroit Education Commission that would oversee and coordinate all schools in the city including district and charter schools. An effort to create such a commission last year had the support of Detroit political leaders but encountered strong opposition in the state house.
SENTENCED: A former Detroit schools principal will go to prison for two years in a kickback scheme
Week In Review
Week in Review: Discount houses — and new faces at the top of Detroit schools
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
- 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.”
- 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.