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: 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.