Week In Review

Week in review: A new Detroit superintendent — and fights over funding, vouchers and vaccines

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
New Detroit school superintendent Nikolai Vitti addresses reporters outside a teacher hiring fair on his first full day in the job.

While the nation’s education world was focused this week on Betsy DeVos, proposed school budget cuts and the fight over who benefits from vouchers, the spotlight in Detroit was trained on Nikolai Vitti. The new superintendent got his final approval from the city Financial Review Commission on Monday and spent his first day Tuesday meeting with teachers and administrators about problems facing the district. Among his early conclusions: Detroit teachers need a raise.

“We have to become more competitive with pay. I don’t think that’s going to be done immediately, at scale, but it’s something that I will be looking closely at in concert with the school board to look at what does our budget look like right now? Where are some opportunities to do things differently? To increase pay?”

— Nikolai Vitti, superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District

Read on for more about Vitti and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. Also, check out the play that a group of Detroit student activists wrote and performed to help explain the recent political turmoil in Detroit education.

All about Vitti

  • The Detroit Financial Review Commission, which has authority over all major district spending, gave Vitti the official green light to take over the district on Monday. The vote came despite commissioners’ concerns about the length of Vitti’s five-year contract and whether the district could afford his nearly $300,000 annual salary.
  • On his first day on the job, Vitti got an earful about the need for the district to fill teacher vacancies.
  • One challenge to doing that, he said, is low teacher salaries in the district and the fact that it’s harder to teach in the city than the suburbs. “We can’t just talk about the value that we have with teachers. We have to pay them accordingly,” he said.
  • Vitti made those comments at a teacher job fair where 200 applicants applied for open district jobs. That’s a good start but the district is currently facing a 263-teacher shortage — and that’s without considering new hires that will be needed to fill vacancies created by retirements and by the expected departure of teachers from schools in the state reform district. The Education Achievement Authority schools are returning to the main district this summer.
  • As Vitti worked the room at the job fair, he was accompanied by Alycia Meriweather. The former interim superintendent is now a senior advisor to Vitti but says she and Vitti are “discussing” a permanent role for her.
  • In his first few days, Vitti visited several schools including MLK High School, Golightly Education Center and the Bates Academy
  • As Vitti starts his new job, the Detroit News notes several forces — including the city teachers union — could block his path to success. But a News columnist and radio host writes that Detroiters need to put their trust in Vitti as he “takes the reins of one of the most publicly distrusted and vilified institutions in the city.”
  • As Vitti prepared to leave his previous job running the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, a Florida columnist recalled Vitti’s frenetic “non-stop” pace in that job.
  • In Jacksonville, Vitti was known as a “reformer who produces quick results,” the Detroit News writes in a story that notes Vitti’s rapid pace of change generated some tension with teachers and staff. The paper also reports that Vitti used tens of millions of dollars he attracted in philanthropy to recruit teachers to the Florida district.

In other Detroit news

  • These Detroit student activists wrote a play about recent political turmoil in Detroit schools. Watch it here.
  • A “family literacy” program at a school in southwest Detroit teaches immigrant parents to speak and read English in the same building where their children are learning. The program has dramatically reduced student absences.
  • Activists are fighting to save the Detroit district’s award-winning lunch program.
  • A Detroit mom says her son is facing expulsion after helping a student who was choked by a teacher. Video of the fight shows the teacher pushing the student.
  • Today is the deadline to nominate a Detroit teacher for the Detroit Goodfellows’ annual Teacher of the Year Contest. Students in grades 3-8 can nominate their favorite teacher.
  • Here’s the story of the events that almost led to a unified effort to help Detroit schools — almost.
  • These Detroit students mix day jobs with school.

Across the state

  • The head of Wayne County schools says the state’s current school funding system “simply no longer works for our students, regardless of where they attend school.”
  • A bill that would let charter schools give enrollment preference to low-income students has advanced in the state house.
  • The state’s lieutenant governor says he personally reached out to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about his concerns that the state’s plan to comply with new federal school accountability rules will shortchange children with disabilities.
  • Lawmakers in the House and Senate forged ahead with bills to cut new teachers out of pensions and switch them to a 401(k)-type plan. Legislative experts say making newly hired teachers ineligible for a pension would cost the state $465 million more a year in the first five years. The Free Press says the proposal doesn’t stand up to scrutiny but the Republican House Speaker called it the “best way forward.”
  • A House panel is considering legislation that would allow parents to enroll unvaccinated children in school without signing a waiver. Here’s what’s at stake in the debate and a database that lets parents look up the vaccination rate in their children’s school.
  • About 61.5 percent of graduates from Michigan public high schools in 2016 were enrolled in college within six months of graduation, according to state data. Look up the college-going rates at individual high schools here. Here’s a list of the 53 schools with the highest college-going rate in the state.
  • A GOP lawmaker makes the case for why the state should allow school districts to start the school year before Labor Day.
  • A court hearing on the legality of $2.5 million included in the state budget to reimburse nonpublic schools for health and safety mandates was canceled. The appeals court hearing the case agreed to hear from several parties who believe they were wrongly denied the right to join the case as defendants.
  • A Detroit News columnist highlights an Indiana student who received a voucher to contrast Michigan laws that bar public funds for private schools.
  • This tiny Michigan school district has been in turmoil.
  • The East Detroit school district has changed its name.
  • The Detroit News named 24 local seniors to the paper’s list of “outstanding graduates.”
  • A local high school gym was closed for bedbugs.

 

Detroit week in review

Week in review: Young children in the spotlight

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Evangelina De La Fuente, worries that the Head Start her 3-year-old twin grandsons attend could close or change. "The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well taken cared for. It’s scary to think it could change," she said.

Hundreds of vulnerable Detroit families are bracing for change in the wake of the announcement last week from a prominent social service organization that it can no longer operate Head Start centers. Other social service providers are stepping up take over the 11 Head Starts that have been run by Southwest Solutions but their ability to smoothly pick up the 420 children who are affected and find classroom space for them is uncertain. That’s added stress to lives of families already in crisis.

“The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well cared for. It’s scary to think it could change.”

—  Evangelina De La Fuente, grandmother of twin three-year-olds who attend a Southwest Solutions Head Start

Given the impact that quality early childhood programs can have on preparing children for kindergarten, advocates are calling for a better support system. That’s one of the missions of the new Hope Starts Here initiative, which was rolled out this morning. The coalition of parents, educators and community groups, led by two major foundations, spent the last year assessing the needs of Detroit children before unveiling a ten-year plan for how Detroit can improve the lives of young children.

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

Birth to eight

Students, teachers, learning

In Lansing

Across the state

In other news

Detroit week in review

Detroit week in review: Payrolls and proficiency

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit supertintendent Nikolai Vitti talks with students at Durfee Elementary/Middle School on the first day of school, September 5, 2017.

This week, we used district salaries to see how the central office has changed since Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti started in the spring: It turns out there are fewer people in the central office but more highly paid administrators. We sorted through the data and created several searchable databases. Click on any of them to learn more, including full district payrolls as of June 1 and Oct. 1.

The city district got more bad news when 24 more of its schools were added to the partnership program, which requires them to improve or face possible consequences. Nine other district schools can choose whether to participate in the program, which comes with additional support and resources. (Two city charter schools were also added to the list.)

And just in time to welcome those schools, a new state reform officer was appointed this week to lead the partnership program.

Hope you have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

PARTNERSHIPS: Nobody is scheduled for closing yet, but the state added three school districts and four charter schools statewide to the partnership list this week. Potentially, almost half of Detroit’s district schools could be participants. Statewide, almost forty schools were added. (See the complete list here.) The state also named a superintendent to lead the newly formed partnership office and become the state school reform officer.

GET IT DONE: A columnist writes that impressive economic gains will be hampered by the state’s poor quality of education. While one editorial page writer urges the state to decide on a course of action for improving schools and do it, business leaders say a piecemeal approach won’t work. This columnist thinks what’s needed is political will at the top.

ALL OVER THE BOARD: A state house committee barely approved a proposal to eliminate the state board of education. Two insiders explore the issue. For the proposal to become law, both houses must approve the resolution by a two-thirds majority and then it must be approved by voters in the next general election because it would amend the state constitution.

CHARTER WARS: An editorial in a major newspaper says it’s a myth that charter schools are performing more poorly than city district schools. Another editorial supports allowing all public schools — charter and traditional — to benefit from property tax hikes.

KEEPING TEACHERS: One columnist blames state lawmakers for the teacher shortage. But a recent study shows you can keep teachers longer with bonuses and loan forgiveness. An advocate wants to encourage efforts to recruit more black male teachers.

YOUR INPUT: Fill out this survey to help shape the state’s new school transparency tool.

CAREER BOOSTS: Several districts will share a $1 million grant to boost career counseling. And the governor invested almost $3 million to support career tech education.

VOICES: How this group of Detroit parents was called to action in the state capitol.

POPULATION SHIFT:  At least one suburban district is hiring staff after the number of students who are learning English nearly doubled.

FOR A SONG: This Detroit teacher produces hip-hop videos to teach his students to read.

THE UNEXPECTED: In an unusual twist, the Hamtramck district reclaimed a charter school building.

DISAPPOINTMENT: A high school student in a special education program was denied an academic achievement award.

RESTRAINTS: A lawsuit alleges a Washtenaw County teacher taped shut the mouth of disabled student. District leaders say the parents waited a year to respond.

BOOK REVIEW: A teacher from a Detroit nonprofit wrote a book about his year-long experience teaching poetry to children in Detroit.