Keep it simple

State superintendent to struggling schools: Choose your partners wisely

PHOTO: Youtube
Michigan state superintendent Brian Whiston reads to students during a recent school visit.

The world is full of do-gooders, many of whom want to make a difference in the lives of struggling students. But Michigan’s top school official had this advice for schools: Think before accepting the help.

It’s a lesson state Superintendent Brian Whiston said he learned during visits last year to 38 schools that had been targeted for closure after years of low performance. Most of those schools — with the exception of a charter school that was closed by its authorizer — were given a chance to stay open after the state signed “partnership agreements” with the nine districts involved.  

When the state visited those nine districts “what we did see is there were a lot of community partners who had brought in programs into the schools and the schools were in such dire shape, they took any help they could get,” Whiston said. “And while that’s appreciated, it sometimes worked against them.”

Whiston instead urged those schools — and others looking to improve — to be “laser-focused and not bring the flavor of the month.” Under the partnership agreements, the schools have 18 months to meet some improvement targets and three years to meet others.

For their part, he said, community groups have an obligation to focus, as well. Rather than offering what they think might work in a school, they should say, “I’m going to come in and sit down with the school district and say, ‘what does the data say’? And ‘what are your goals and what can we do to align to that’?”

The superintendent’s remarks came during a panel on poverty, racial equity and education at the Michigan League for Public Policy’s annual policy forum, which was held in a Lansing hotel on Wednesday.  

Panelists, who also included Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation (a Chalkbeat supporter), and Marijata Daniel-Echols, the director of the Center for Health Equity Practice at the Michigan Public Health Institute, discussed ways to improve education for children who are living in poverty.

Proposed solutions included expanding quality preschool and after-school programs, and panelists discussed more equitable ways to fund schools in Michigan that would give those serving children with greater needs extra resources.

Much of the discussion was livestreamed. Watch it here:

 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

State of the Schools

Detroit’s first State of the Schools address aims to ‘bring all the parties to the table’  

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn

There’s a State of the Union address, a State of the State address and a State of the City address.

Now, Detroiters will have a State of the Schools address.

“We thought it was important to do something just about schools,” said Jamila Martin, co-director of 482Forward, a citywide network of parents, students and educators that is sponsoring the first of what it hopes will be an annual event.

The State of the Schools will feature presentations from Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti as well as the leaders of two charter school authorizers — Grand Valley State University and Central Michigan University — that collectively oversee 25 of the city’s 60-plus charter schools.

All three speakers have been asked to bring data on their schools in a format that will allow for easy comparisons. Vitti has made no secret of the fact that he is competing with charter schools for students, and charter advocates have chided him for not working collaboratively with them.

Including charter schools in the event was a priority, Martin said, because most of the public’s attention over the past two years has focused on Detroit’s main school district.

The district, after years of state emergency management, was in so much debt that it only avoided bankruptcy last year when state lawmakers put $617 million toward creating a debt-free Detroit Public Schools Community District. Since then, eyes have been on the district’s first elected school board and the board’s hiring of Vitti last spring.

“That’s all important,” Martin said, “but it tends to obscure the fact that half of our kids are in schools that are not part of DPSCD.”

The State of the Schools event, which will be held at the Gesu Catholic Church in northwest Detroit from 6-8 p.m. on October 25, will be moderated by reporters from Chalkbeat and Bridge Magazine.

Organizers are asking people who want to attend in person to register in advance. For those not able to attend, the event will be carried live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

A parent, a student and a teacher will each play a formal hosting role in the event.

“This an opportunity for accountability,” said Jimmie Jones, an event host who has worked in both district and charter schools and sends his daughter Trinity, 7, to a charter.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there. There’s a lot of finger pointing,” Jones said. “This is an opportunity to bring all the parties to the table and unpack all of the rhetoric … and make it understandable and relatable to people.”