Detroit week in review

Week in review: Vittis take center stage as they encourage parents to help improve Detroit schools

PHOTO: via Twitter
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and wife Rachel Vitti, seen here at a past event in Florida, spoke at a special education forum in a Detroit church this week.

New Detroit schools chief Nikolai Vitti has been in the spotlight since coming to town. But at a forum in a Detroit church this week, his wife Rachel came first. She gave a moving talk about her frustration in trying to get proper tools, classroom help, and guidance for one of her dyslexic children when her family lived in Florida. Then her husband told parents, teachers, and other community members at the special education forum that he wants parents involved — and invited them to participate more fully with the city’s schools. At another forum this week, Vitti reiterated that engaging parents was one of his top priorities.

Also this week, teachers at a closed Detroit charter school are finally are getting their summer paychecks, thanks to some generous donors. Check out the rest of this week’s education news and then enjoy these last summer days before school starts!

— Julie Topping, editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

IT TAKES A VILLAGE: Vitti, who knows he is in the hot seat, told a forum gathered at a downtown community college that district schools “can be successful again.”  He called parents the key to rebuilding schools. And at a retreat in Ann Arbor, district leaders and board members discussed creating a strategic plan, starting with a series of meetings with Detroiters.

Even as inspiring talks and high-level discussions take place, the district is still short hundreds of teachers as the first day of school approaches. A second teacher hiring fair will be held this week.

Luring teachers into Detroit with discount housing could help rebuild the city’s middle-class, one think tank says. Its survey shows the number of families with children in Detroit has declined by 43 percent since 2000.

One commentator believes Vitti’s support for K-12 schools is an evenhanded approach to quality education.  “I’m for competition,” he said. “And I’m for traditional public education.”

COURT ARGUMENTS: Attorneys representing Detroit students in a literacy lawsuit dispute a local editorial’s claim that the suit requires “turn(ing) the schools over to the courts.”

SWEET PAYDAY: Donors made sure teachers at a recently closed charter school who were told they wouldn’t get paid got their summer paychecks after all.

HONEST RACE TALK: This blogger’s tips on talking to kids about race are useful anytime, not just after recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. And the best discussions happen when teachers are bold, courageous, and honest with kids, one university professor believes.

LABOR DAY ROUNDUP: While more Michigan schools opt to open before Labor Day, schools that have taken advantage of the waiver have struggled to get kids in the door before the holiday.    

A MATTER OF POLICY: The state has updated and submitted its ESSA plan to the U.S. Department of Education, this time with a more nuanced “transparent dashboard” instead of the A-F rankings that Gov. Rick Snyder supports.

TURNAROUND…NOT: A large study on school turnarounds shows they don’t help student learning, and schools with more students of color are more likely to be shut down.

IT’S GAME TIME: A Detroit area utility and the owner of the Detroit Pistons are pledging $1 million each to start a Flint Promise program for high school students to go to college. But to help every kid, they need more donors.  

THE BIG PAYBACK: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Detroit schools after the board of education agreed to pay $28 million to a janitorial company.  

HIGH STAKES: Learn what you need to know as Michigan’s third-grade reading law takes effect. Then find your school’s third-grade reading scores.

STEM, ANYONE? A Michigan State University grant will help researchers design programs that put computers into high school physics classrooms. A new digital learning and competition platform coming to schools in Detroit encourages more students to enter STEM and advanced manufacturing fields.

EXTRA CREDIT: Schools and parents can use this online tool to help navigate back-to-school shopping. This teacher’s school was almost shut down by the state. And the Wayne County Family Aquatic Center will host a back-to-school enrollment fair with the Detroit district from 11-3 Saturday at Chandler Park on the city’s east side. Admission is free.


Detroit week in review

Week in review: Two schools in Detroit were excited to show off shiny new spaces

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
J.E. Clark Preparatory Academy's new basketball-themed library, courtesy of the Detroit Pistons.

It was a week of big reveals and big donations. A charter middle school unveiled new classrooms and science labs made possible by a $6 million renovation. An area mortgage company made a large contribution to City Year Detroit. And a local sports team’s donation helped build a new library at a Detroit district elementary school.

Unfortunately, more than money is needed to figure out how to reuse the scores of vacant schools that dot Detroit’s landscape and destabilize its neighborhoods. We wrote about the challenges of repurposing those buildings this week.

In other news, watch our own Erin Einhorn on Detroit Public TV’s American Black Journal. She talks about the three days she spent behind the scenes with Detroit schools chief Dr. Nikolai Vitti.

Finally, we are hiring! If someone you know is interested in being a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit, contact us.

Have a great week!

— Julie Topping, Chalkbeat Detroit editor

LET’S GET IT TOGETHER: A new report says Detroit’s main district and charters must work together to ensure students get a good education. Vitti, who is openly competitive with charters, says he’s an advocate of choice but not without “guardrails.”

TOUGH JOBS TO FILL: The main Detroit district has hired more teachers, but still needs to fill almost 200 jobs. Most leave teaching because — surprise! — they are dissatisfied with the profession. Union leaders on a listening tour said teachers were concerned most about testing, pay and lack of funding for education.

RENOVATION CITY: University Prep Academy middle school cut the ribbon on nine new classrooms and six new science labs made possible by its $6 million renovation. 

PHOTO: University Prep Academy Middle School
University Prep Academy celebrated its $6 million renovation this week.

And the Detroit Pistons give an elementary school library in Detroit a basketball-themed makeover

NO LOANS HERE: Quicken donated $700,000 to a group that places young adults in schools to support students.

GREEN SCHOOLS: A group of Democratic state lawmakers introduced a package of bills designed to reduce schools’ environmental impact, lower energy costs and teach kids about sustainability.

AT WORK MORE OFTEN: Charter school teachers are less likely to be chronically absent than their peers in traditional district schools.

WHO NEEDS ‘EM: Editorial says get rid of the state board of education.

OPINION: An education advocate notes, during Hispanic Heritage month, that Latino students have lost ground in recent years.

DIGITAL MOVEMENT: Michigan schools are closing the digital divide, report says.

RACIAL SHIFT: A merger flips the demographics at two Ferndale elementary schools.

Week In Review

Week in review: A ‘poor choice of words’ from the state schools boss, Grosse Pointe considers lightening up

The state superintendent was under fire this week after telling a TV interviewer that school choice had taken the state “backwards.” It was a comment he later called a “poor choice of words.”

Scroll down for more on that story and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. That includes insight into why Grosse Pointe is reviewing its tough enforcement of its residency rules and the latest on Detroit’s new schools boss, Nikolai Vitti. He was the subject of a major Chalkbeat story this week that looked at his plan to bring order to a district that he says lacked basic financial and academic systems.

Also, if you weren’t able to attend the forum featuring Vitti and the Citizens Research Council this week, you can watch the full video here. If you’re still looking for more, please tune in to American Black Journal on Sunday when I’ll be talking about Detroit schools.

Oh, and we have some exciting news: We’re hiring! If you know any thoughtful reporters who’d be interested in covering one of the most important stories in American education, please tell them to get in touch. Thanks for reading!

The Detroit schools boss

The state schools boss

  • Michigan schools boss Brian Whiston stressed in his clarification about his controversial school choice remarks that he’s a strong supporter of choice but believes giving parents options can’t be the only fix for schools.
  • Whiston’s comments come as advocates lament declining test scores across the state. Among them: a news publisher who blasts Lansing for fiddling while public schools “go to hell” and an advocate who urged Michigan parents to stop telling themselves that their child’s school is probably fine. “In fact,” she writes, “Michigan is one of only five states that has declined in actual performance in fourth-grade reading since 2003 for all students.”
  • Still, the head of the state board of education says it’s “irresponsible” to suggest that Michigan schools are in crisis.
  • The school choice supporters who were miffed by Whiston’s comments are also still steamed about a New York Times Magazine piece on charter schools last week. One critic said the article failed to tell the whole story about the challenges to education in Highland Park and Detroit. A news site that strongly supports choice scrutinized the way the story characterized the number of for-profit charter schools in Michigan.

In Detroit and across its borders

  • Grosse Pointe schools officials are reviewing their aggressive approach to enforcing residency rules that keep Detroiters and other non-residents out of the district’s schools. In the past three years, the district has spent $74,528 on investigations and legal fees related to out-of-district students and has made all parents jump through burdensome hoops to prove they live in the district.
  • A Detroit teacher (and Chalkbeat reader advisory board member) set out to talk with other educators to “build a more nuanced narrative of Detroit schools.” Among teachers he featured is Janine Scott who the writer discovered when she appeared last spring in a Chalkbeat/Skillman Foundation “Story Booth.” (If you’re a parent, educator or student who wants to be featured in a future Story Booth, please let us know).
  • A principal who moved a Detroit charter school from the 8th percentile on state rankings to the 51st explains how it’s done.
  • Detroit’s main district plans to spend up to $57,000 to establish Parent Teacher Associations in all of its 106 schools.
  • The head of a Detroit high school engineering program explains how it aims to change lives.
  • An organization that places young adults in Detroit schools to provide support got a major gift from Quicken Loans that will help it expand.
  • The construction boom has highlighted the shortcomings of the city school system.
  • Wayne State University’s leaders pushed back against an article last week that highlighted a dramatic decline in African American enrollment — particularly graduates of Detroit schools.

In other news