Week In Review

Week in review: Open Meetings Act violation postpones superintendent discussion

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
Teams with Detroit Public Schools Community District students will be going for the first time to the Destination Imagination Global Competition next month. The problem-solving competition draws more than 17,000 participants from 20 countries. Among the winners is a team from Detroit’s Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy.

A crucial discussion about who should lead Detroit’s main school district won’t happen until at least next week after a superintendent search update was postponed last night due to problems with the way the meeting was advertised.

The Detroit school board now plans to discuss (and possibly vote on) the two finalists — Florida superintendent Nikolai Vitti and River Rouge Superintendent Derrick Coleman — at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday night. Thursday’s meeting was cancelled after an activist who scrutinizes city practices filed an emergency court motion to prevent the board from violating the state Open Meetings Act.

 

“The irony was that there was going to be no action taken today. It was just going to be open deliberation.”

— LaMar Lemmons, Detroit school board member

 

The board had announced the meeting on social media and in a press release but the notice was not clearly visible on the district’s website yesterday. Read on for more about the superintendent search and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. Also, check out our new series featuring parents, students and educators talking about Detroit schools. This week’s inaugural story featured a teacher explaining the tragic reason why her students sometimes don’t come to class. Do you have a story to tell or know someone who does? Please let us know.

The search

The Detroit school board this week defended its superintendent search process from an onslaught of criticism. “We ask and request that we are allowed to do this process that was agreed upon by this board back in January,” the head of the board’s search committee said.

Critics are steamed by what some call an “unfair” decision to exclude interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, who applied for the position but was not named a finalist when the board decided only to consider candidates with three or more years of superintendent experience. Meriweather had gotten broad support from teachers, parents, and community leaders, including business titan Dan Gilbert and a parent advocate who blogged this week that “the majority of Detroiters agree that we don’t want to start over from scratch.”

The two remaining finalists revealed in video interviews and in their 90- and 100-day plans for what they’ll do if they get the job that they are men with a lot in common and big ambitions for the district.

The Detroit News says it believes Coleman is the board’s preferred candidate, but the paper urged the board to pick Vitti instead, arguing that “the fact that Vitti has run a large school district gives him experience with complicated budgets, which he’d be overseeing in Detroit.”

Vitti has expressed enthusiasm for the job but assured a Florida news station that he’ll be keeping his eye on his current job until he gets a new one. “Right now, my focus is on Duval County Public Schools,” Vitti told a reporter in Jacksonville. “We still have lots of work to do here and that’s what I’m focused on right now.”

 

In other Detroit schools news

    • This Detroit teacher reveals the tragic reason why her students don’t always come to class.
    • Three charter schools that are currently part of the Education Achievement Authority now face an uncertain future.
    • Enrollment in Detroit’s main school district is at a historic low.
    • Hundreds of Detroit parents have turned in letters opting their children out of this year’s M-STEP exam to protest school closings and other high-stakes consequences for test scores. Schools could face sanctions if more than 5 percent of their students opt out. A Free Press columnist urges Lansing to pay attention to what protesting parents are saying.  
    • A partnership between Detroit’s main school district and the University of Detroit Mercy aims to attract more teachers, especially African-American men.
    • A new novel is inspired by a writer’s time teaching poetry to kids in Detroit schools.
    • Two Detroit high school orchestras that will compete against each other in a national competition at Carnegie Hall this month are led by a married couple — he teaches at Renaissance High School; she at Detroit School of Arts.
    • This Detroit private school makes a point of teaching cursive.

 

Across the state

    • Michigan is revising its rules to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, but doesn’t plan to publicly share its final plan before sending it to the federal government for approval. The state superintendent makes his case for why the state’s plan “is the proper course and the best direction for education in Michigan” but a schools advocate knocks the department for choosing “expediency over transparency” with its ESSA plan.
    • The state education department is looking for tools that schools and districts can use to identify children who are in danger of being held back under the state’s tougher new third grade reading requirements.
    • A Free Press columnist slams a House bill that would allow schools to replace foreign language instruction with computer coding classes. “It should not be either/or,” she writes. But a western Michigan lawmaker who helped craft the legislation says her bill “would give students better choices.”
    • The state’s top court heard arguments this week on whether courts have any say over private school admissions. The case centers around a girl whose parents say she was turned away a Catholic school because of a learning disability.
    • A Democratic candidate for governor says, if elected, she would crack down on charter school authorizers who fail to close poor-performing charter schools.
    • The parents of a middle-schooler with autism are suing their local district after their son told them he was sexually abused by a classmate.

Week In Review

Week in Review: A final push to fill classrooms before the start of school

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

With the start of the school year now just over two weeks away, pressure is mounting on schools to hire enough teachers before classes begin. That pressure is especially intense for new Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who has been trying to fill hundreds of vacancies ahead of his first full year as the district’s leader. The new contract approved by the school board this week could help by raising salaries, but the district is still listing nearly every teaching category as an area of “critical need.”

As teachers prepare to return to class, some may be thinking of ways to talk to their students about last weekend’s violent attack on demonstrators protesting white supremacists in Virginia. Chalkbeat has been gathering ideas from teachers about how to help kids through these difficult conversations. Check them out — or add some of your own ideas.

Also, this newsletter is available as a weekly email that can be sent directly to your inbox every Friday morning. Please sign up here.

The final countdown

  • As it tries to recruit enough teachers, Detroit’s main district is using several new tactics. Among them are job fairs like one yesterday that drew 150 candidates. Another job fair is scheduled for Aug. 31.
  • The Detroit News urged Vitti to take his time to make sure the people he hires are up to the task.
  • The head of the city teachers union says the teaching shortage is the direct result of recent state policies.
  • The teachers’ new contract was approved by the school board on Tuesday. If it wins final signoff from a state financial oversight board, first-year teachers in Detroit could soon make more than their peers in Grosse Pointe and other suburbs.
  • The school board Tuesday also approved a $28 million settlement with a contractor as well as an agreement with the Highland Park School district to educate some Highland Park students — as long as the school board of the tiny district agrees.
  • If you missed the board meeting, you can review contracts, hiring decisions and other actions considered by the board by clicking here. For the first time in recent memory, that information will now be posted online days of ahead of scheduled board meetings.
  • Among teachers joining the Detroit district this year are 11 who’ve come from Spain to teach Spanish.
  • Teachers are not the only target for recruitment. The district is also trying to recruit students, hosting a free day at the Michigan Science Center tomorrow for district families, as well as a special “Slow Roll” bike ride, among other events.

The new boss

  • Vitti says he draws on his memories as a child with dyslexia as he relates to Detroit children with special needs. He and his wife, who are co-hosting a forum for special education families next week, talked with the Free Press about their experience as special ed parents.
  • One school advocate took Vitti to task for a district Tweet that quoted him saying poverty shouldn’t be an excuse for poor school performance. Those comments are “not helpful,” she wrote. “It puts the blame on those who are victims.”

Courting literacy

Across the state

  • The head of a state association of charter school authorizers says the state’s decision not to close low-performing schools means that “future generations of Michigan students are going to be failed by their schools.”
  • A bill that would require schools to teach African-American history is getting a new push from its sponsors after a weekend of violence in Charlottesville, Va.
  • A News columnist says the “sad reality” of poor educational quality in Michigan is imperiling the state’s future economic prospects. But the state’s top education and economic officials say they’re ramping up efforts to prepare students for good-paying jobs.
  • The state education department will reduce the overall score students need to pass an English-proficiency test.
  • The state’s largest teachers union opposes a new alternative teacher certification program that a private company can now offer in Michigan.
  • Community groups, churches, businesses and other organizations are hosting school supply drives and shopping sprees to help Michigan kids get ready for school.
  • Parents and advocates are worried that a successful after-school program that last year served 26,623 Michigan students could lose funding under President Trump’s proposed budget.
  • While Detroit has dozens of shuttered school buildings now sitting vacant in city neighborhoods, closed Grand Rapids schools are mostly still occupied.
  • A quarter of the teachers in this district missed more than 20 days of school.
  • These are the state’s top private high schools.

 

Talking about race

Tough conversations after Charlottesville: Week in Review special edition

PHOTO: Ted Eytan / Creative Commons
A candlelight vigil at the White House on Sunday, after the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

This weekend’s violent attack on demonstrators against a white nationalist group in Charlottesville, Virginia, has left many teachers and parents wondering how to discuss it and other issues related to race with children.  

Great teachers are experts at difficult conversations. If you want to share your experiences with us and perhaps help others, fill out this short form. We’ll publish a roundup of responses on Chalkbeat. Your stories can help others looking for the right words.

In the meantime, here are some resources that can help with these discussions. They can also help you consider what you may still have to learn when talking about race.  

TALK THE TALK: The New York Times’ number one tip is don’t avoid the issue of race. BuzzFeed is one of many publications that explains how to raise race-conscious children, but the LA Times talks specifically about discussing the violence in Charlottesville with kids. “Only white people,” said a little girl to a black boy who wanted to get on a playground ride. How the parent responded.

This writer believes the conversations should not only happen in individual classrooms but also at the school level.

IN DETROIT SCHOOLS:  A federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Detroit kids described horrifying scenes such as an eighth-grader teaching a class. This Detroit teacher uses music to expose students to history, politics and power. Parents must make hard choices about accessing the best schools. One new program is teaching kids while their parents are at the laundromat.

OTHER CHALKBEAT RESOURCES: Great teachers offer advice on talking about race.  Why one mother in Nashville is not anxious about sending her child to the neighborhood school. We explain when private schools can discriminate against students.