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:

Early investment

Foundations put $50 million behind effort to improve lives of young Detroit children

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The heads of the Kresge and W.K. Kellogg foundations, Rip Rapson and La June Montgomery announce a $50 million investment to support the new Hope Starts Here framework.

The two major foundations behind the creation of a ten-year plan to improve the lives of Detroit’s youngest children are putting up $50 million to help put the plan into action.

As they unveiled the new Hope Starts Here framework Friday morning, the Kellogg and Kresge foundations announced they would each spend $25 million in the next few years to improve the health and education of children aged birth to 8 in the city.

The money will go toward upgrading early childhood education centers, including a new Kresge-funded comprehensive child care center that the foundation says it hopes to break ground on next year at a location that has not yet been identified.

Other foundation dollars will go toward a just-launched centralized data system that will keep track of a range of statistics on the health and welfare of young children, and more training and support for early childhood educators.

The announcement at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History drew dozens of parents, educators and community leaders. Among them was Detroit Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who said one of the major impediments to improving conditions for young children has been divisions between the various government and nonprofit entities that run schools, daycares and health facilities for young kids.

Vitti said the district would do its part to “to break down the walls of territorialism that has prevented this work from happening” in the past.

Watch the video of of the announcement here.

Detroit's future

In a city where 60 percent of young children live in poverty, a ten-year plan aims to improve conditions for kids

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat

A coalition of community groups led by two major foundations has a plan to change the fortunes of Detroit’s youngest citizens.

The Hope Starts Here early childhood partnership is a ten-year effort to tackle a list of bleak statistics about young children in Detroit:

  • More than 60% of Detroit’s children 0-5 live in poverty — more than in any of the country’s 50 largest cities;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too early, compared to nine percent nationally;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too small, compared to eight percent nationally;
  • Detroit has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country;
  • Nearly 30,000 of eligible young Detroiters have no access to high-quality early learning or child care options.
  • That translates to learning problems later on, including the 86.5% of Detroit third graders who aren’t reading at grade level.

Hope Starts Here spells out a plan to change that. While it doesn’t identify specific new funding sources or propose a dramatic restructuring of current programs, the effort led by the Kresge Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, names six “imperatives” to improving children’s lives.

Among them: Promoting the health, development and wellbeing of Detroit children; supporting their parents and caregivers; increasing the overall quality of early childhood programs and improving coordination between organizations that work with young kids. The framework calls for more funding to support these efforts through the combined investments of governments, philanthropic organizations and corporations.

Read the full framework here: