more money fewer problems

Detroit schools chief: District can now pay for counselors, arts classes, and gym in every school

After months spent talking about expensive new programs he’d like to see, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he’s found money in the Detroit district’s budget to hire a slew of educators who’ve been missing for years from city schools.

The budget framework he presented to a school board committee Friday calls for every city school to have a guidance counselor, an arts or music teacher, a gym teacher, and a “dean of school culture” who would be in charge of student discipline and creating in-school suspension programs.

Vitti’s proposals didn’t have specific dollar amounts attached, but provided a vision for how he wants to allocate the district’s money for next school year.

High schools would each have a graduation coach to make sure students are earning the credits they need to graduate in four years, are taking college entrance exams, or preparing for post-high school careers.

And every student in grades K-5 will get three field trips a year through a new “cultural passport program” as well as expanded sports programs in elementary and middle schools.

“Going to the Detroit Institute of Arts or to the Music Hall or to the zoo … all these activities will be part of the standard DPSCD experience that will be used to market our schools going forward,” Vitti said.

Vitti has said making the experience of attending district schools more appealing is one way he plans to draw more students and staff into the district.

He also told the school board’s finance committee that principals will work 12 months – up from 10 – after years of largely getting their summers off. That, Vitti said, will give them time to focus on recruiting students and teachers while their assistant principals run summer schools.

“I think principals need to start sharing the burden of recruiting,” Vitti said. “There was a culture of ‘Oh, that’s the district’s job.’”

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one. But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works to address the difficulties of recruiting new employees.

He told that committee that he hopes to make recruiting easier in the next few months by negotiating with the city teachers union the ability to pay higher salaries to experienced teachers who come from outside the district. Currently the contract won’t allow the district to pay new teachers any more than a beginner level salary, even if they’ve worked for a decade in another district or charter school.

Vitti also said he wants to make entering the district as a new hire easier. Some principals have complained that the hiring process is so laborious that candidates sometimes accept other offers while waiting for their contracts with the Detroit district to come through.

“You don’t have to go to this side of town to do the fingerprinting, then going to this side of town for the drug test,” Vitti said.

Vitti said the goal of his plan is “to make decisions and change some of our funding priorities while still being conservative to ensure sustainability,” and that “the budget is structured to prevent us from being in a place where we’re overspending.”

Vitti says the money would come from state funding from increased enrollment, federal grants, and money the district would save by combining the independent schools operating within three multi-school campuses: Mumford, Cody, and Crockett/Ben Carson campuses.

His plans to combine the schools on each campus to “reduce administrative costs and create singular leadership” would save the district roughly $2 million, he said.

The committee is expected to vote on the proposals later this month, and if approved, the plan could go before the full board in April, Vitti said.

Adding to school staff

  • School leadership: the district plans to have principals work year round, add an assistant principal to each school, and add a dean of culture to each school.
  • Instructional staff: the district wants to add two master teachers per school to coach teachers in English and math, better allocate teachers based on the most up-to-date count data, add at least one art or music teacher to each school, add gym teachers to each school, add education technicians to support reading and math interventions, and add personnel to support PreK to second grade.
  • Support staff: Adding at least one guidance counselor to each school, adding one graduation coach to each school, add a school culture facilitator to each school to facilitate in-school suspensions, add one attendance agent per school and add at least two clerical staff to each school.
Read the entire proposed budget framework below.



New Arrivals

In a letter to Betsy Devos, Michigan officials highlight the plight of refugee students — and ask for testing waiver.

PHOTO: Warren Consolidated Schools
Students at Warren-Mott High School in the Detroit suburbs. Officials there say that many students are arriving at the school from refugee camps, including 11th graders who had no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Such students would currently be required to take a state English test during their first year in school.

To teachers who work with recently arrived refugee students, the problem is clear. Although their students will eventually learn English, their language skills at first aren’t comparable to those of native speakers. They’re hoping that officials in the Devos education department won’t be able to avoid coming to the same conclusion after reading the state’s detail-rich request to delay testing new immigrant children in English.

That puts Michigan on track to become the second state to ask for a waiver from the federal law that requires a child who arrived in the U.S. this year to take a standardized English test within a year after arriving — even if they’re just being introduced to the language. The law also requires states to count such students’ scores in decisions about whether to close low-performing schools.

“We wanted to balance between presenting hard data and some anecdotes,” said Chris Janzer, assistant director of accountability at the Michigan Department of Education. “We’re hoping that the case we present, with some of the stories, will win us approval.”

The stories hone in on the Detroit area, home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arabic speakers, including many newly arrived refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East. This population is unique in more ways than one: It includes more than 30,000 Chaldean Christians who arrived after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 — the largest such population in the world outside Iraq. And many of its children must deal with the aftereffects of violent displacement even as they attempt to attend school in what is in many cases an entirely new language.

The state’s waiver request offers Hamtramck, a hyper-diverse city enclave in Detroit, as an example:

Hamtramck has many recent arrivals from war-torn regions in Yemen and Syria and has students from remote villages with no formal education background, as well as many others with interrupted learning. New students can have toxic stress and can even be suicidal, and often require wraparound services. Older students are also often burdened with the responsibility of helping their families financially, emotionally, and with childrearing.

Even the luckiest new arrivals would benefit if Michigan receives a waiver from parts of the federal Every Students Succeed Act, says Suzanne Toohey, president of Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

“The intent of the waiver is for the most needy students, but it will help all students,” she said, adding that it typically takes 5-7 years for an English learner to catch up to her native-speaking peers.

With that in mind, Toohey says current federal requirements don’t make sense.

“It would be like an adult who is many years out of school, and who took French for two years of high school, going to France and trying to take a college course,” she said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Following the same logic, Michigan officials are asking Devos’ education department to put the brakes on federal requirements for testing recently arrived English learners. If the waiver request is approved:

  • In their first year in Michigan schools, those students wouldn’t be required to take the state English language arts exam.
  • In their second, they would take the test, but schools wouldn’t be held accountable for their scores.
  • In year three, the growth in their scores on the English exam would be factored into school ratings.
  • And in year four their overall score — known as proficiency — would be counted as well as their growth.

That’s still too soon to begin testing English learners, Toohey said, noting “the waiver is a start, but we haven’t gotten all the way there.”

Even so, the proposed change still faces substantial obstacles. New York’s request for a similar waiver was denied by the U.S. Department of Education in January. In its response, the department said it was holding New York to its responsibility to “set high expectations that apply to all students.” Janzer says his staff studied New York’s waiver and concluded that Michigan’s should include more details to humanize the situations of the affected students.

Michigan officials are currently working to incorporate public comments (there were seven, all of them supportive, Janzer said) into its request, which is expected to be submitted in the coming weeks. A decision isn’t expected from federal officials for several more months.

Whoever reads the 10-page document in Washington, D.C. will be confronted with details like these:

  • Lamphere Schools, of Madison Heights, MI, has received a significant influx of students from Iraq and Syria, and at least one elementary school’s student body is roughly 70 percent recently arrived students from these two nations. Lamphere reports that some students initially undergo temporary “silent periods,” a researched stage of second language acquisition, where children are watching and listening, but not yet speaking.
  • Warren Consolidated Schools, of Warren, MI, reports that they have many students from refugee camps, including students who are testing in 11th grade after having no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Warren Consolidated has received 2,800 students from Syria or Iraq since 2007.

Read the full document here. Most local details are on pages 7-9.

live stream

WATCH: Candidates for Detroit school board introduce themselves live

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Detroiters at IBEW 58 wait for candidates for school board candidates to address them.

The nine candidates for Detroit school board are gathering Thursday evening at IBEW 58 in Detroit to make their cases in advance of the November general election in which two seats are up for grabs.

The candidates have already introduced themselves in video statements, but this is one of their first chances to address the public in real time.

We’re covering the event — including a live stream the candidates’ opening statements, which should start around 7 p.m.

Click below or check out our Facebook page to see what they have to say.