Detroit — Tuesday was not only the first day of school for students at Detroit Public Schools Community District, it was the beginning of a new chapter for the district, which has a new superintendent and locally elected school board for the first time in nearly a decade.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti spent much of Tuesday morning visiting students in schools across DPSCD and gathering his first impressions of the district’s first day of business for its nearly 48,000 students and its staff.
“So far, the energy has been positive. The principals feel a new sense of support in the district as far as opening the schools. We met with them one-on-one, and we asked them what they needed to make sure we had a smooth opening,” Vitti said.
The district continues to have a teacher shortage with 250 vacancies as of Tuesday, Vitti said. The hires of 50 teachers are pending placement in the district.
Of the 250 vacancies, 65 are at 11 former Education Achievement Authority schools, which were returned to DPSCD after the state had taken them away to create a reform statewide school district, leaving 185 at non-EAA schools. Vitti said the district is in a better position than it was last September when it had 276 vacancies.
“In less than two months, we have hired over 225 teachers,” Vitti said. “We do believe we have the potential to hire teachers and that teachers want to come to our district.”
Vitti said over the next seven days, he plans to make adjustments for teacher placements at individual schools based on enrollment. First-day enrollment numbers are typically around 50 percent at DPSCD, and total enrollment takes about two weeks to reach stable levels, he said.
Vitti spent the morning meeting students inside classrooms at Bagley Elementary School. He shook hands with children and teachers and announced a new technology initiative that will put laptops into the hands of all students at Bagley and two other district schools, Cooke and Nolan. Students will get their computers in two months, Vitti said.
“How is everybody? Ready for the school year?” Vitti asked students in fifth- and sixth-grade math and technology. “You are all in your uniforms, and you all look good.”
Principal Christa Reeves told Vitti she was pleased to see security guards at the school on the first day. Vitti said the district made the decision last year to eliminate security at many of the district’s smaller schools. But he asked principals what they needed, and security was on the list.
“We ensured that every school this year would have security,” Vitti said. “We are actually listening to people and trying to do things differently.”
First-grade students Cassidy and Casey Sharette walked to Bagley with their father Tuesday morning. The girls, who are 6-year-old identical twins, were dressed in school uniforms with their hair pulled back. Wearing matching tennis shoes and backpacks with the new tags still on, each student had a different perspective of the day ahead.
“I want to see my friends,” said Cassidy, smiling as she stood outside the school. Casey did not share her sister’s excitement. “I don’t want to go to school,” she said.
Rosalyn Woodward left Bagley after dropping off her grandson, Gervel Smith, for his first day of kindergarten. There was never a thought that Gervel would miss the first day of school, she said.
“I want him to get off to a good start,” Woodward said.
Vitti took over as superintendent in May and since January the district has had a locally elected board of education in charge of making decisions after a decade of state control.
“To have a locally empowered elected board is meaningful. We have to be in a positive way responsive to the needs of the community. ...We’ve seen the deterioration of the district over a decade. I don’t think anyone can argue that emergency managers worked,” Vitti said.
Vitti also spent part of the morning taking his children to their first day of school in the district. His children are in third, fourth, seventh and eighth grades.
“They all either love school or see school as something they have to do,” he said. “We look forward to a good year for them and especially for the 48,000 kids in our district.”