Detroit school board defends its superintendent search amid criticism; decision could come this week

Detroit’s school board defended its search for a district leader on Tuesday, after a series of delays and some public pushback about the finalists.

At their meeting, members of the board said they were continuing with “information gathering” and that a final vote would come later this week or early next week. The two candidates, Nikolai Vitti of Duval County Public Schools in Florida and Derrick Coleman of River Rouge, were products of a transparent process, they said.

“There is not a decision that has been made,” board Vice President Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said, noting that the board reviewed nearly 800 surveys and hosted 11 public meetings about choosing a superintendent. The criteria for evaluating the candidates, she said, came from the community itself.

“When I say community, I mean community advocates — there were educators, there were principals, there was the faith-based, there were business stakeholders,” she said. “The platforms were there for people to provide feedback in what they wanted.”

The board has reason to feel defensive. It has faced mounting pressure to slow its hiring process and expand its candidate pool to include others — especially Alycia Meriweather, who has served as the interim superintendent since March 2016.

Last week, the city’s two leading newspapers wrote editorials calling for an expansion of the search. Soon after, prominent philanthropist and businessman Dan Gilbert reiterated the concerns on Twitter. “How’s it possible DPS interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather isn’t a finalist in school board’s search for a permanent superintendent?” he wrote.

The search has been a complicated one. The district had been without a general superintendent since 2009, when it was placed under emergency management. The board only took office in January, and by March announced three candidates: Vitti, Coleman, and Milwaukee superintendent Orlando Ramos, who has since dropped out.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board member Deborah Hunter-Harvill told Chalkbeat that the final vote will take place at one of two meetings. The first is set for Thursday, April 13 at 5:30 p.m. on the 12th floor of the Fisher Building at 3011 W. Grand Boulevard. A second is scheduled for April 18.

Both dates are past the board’s legal deadline to choose a district chief, and it remains unclear whether the delay will have any consequences for the district. But the choice will be the board’s first major decision since taking office, and has the potential to have a significant impact on the future of the previously insolvent district. That’s why they aren’t rushing the decision-making process, board members said.

“We ask and request that we are allowed to do this process that was agreed upon by this board back in January,” Peterson-Mayberry said.