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Education panel: Schools must collaborate more with business community

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

Collaboration between schools and the business community exists in Detroit but more needs to be done in the city and statewide, a panel of educators and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Thursday. 

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public School Community District, Detroit school board treasurer Sonya Mays, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and Duggan were part of a panel Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference to discuss how schools can collaborate with other institutions to improve student performance.

Vitti, who is one year into his post in Detroit, said the Detroit Promise program is an equalizer that is a concrete investment into children's long-term education.

The program, a partnership with the city’s Detroit Promise Zone and administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber, ensures that any Detroit-resident student graduating in spring 2018 from a high school in the city will have a tuition-free path to an associate degree, technical certificate or bachelor's degree at one of six participating community colleges or 17 four-year universities.

"We need to scale it so more families learn about it, and it can be accessible," Vitti said.


Business investment in career technical centers in the Detroit school system helps create a pipeline for students to get right into the work world, he said.

"We need to get to a point of scale," said Vitti, adding the district needs to take the programs and make them available at every school, not just Cass Tech and Renaissance high schools.

Ways to get involved in the school district include joining School Advisory Councils, which work with principals to create improvement plans, Vitti said.

"Sponsor a school. Train tutors. Our children need internships and internships. Our students need exposure ... opportunity and connections," he said.

Duggan said collaboration should be increased not just in the city schools but statewide because poor student performance is challenging all districts across the state.

During the panel, Duggan mentioned a school transit system he pitched that will create a united school bus loop for charter and traditional students in northwest Detroit, adding that he does not want to run the schools but wants to "facilitate the educators doing their job."

The UM’s "Go Blue Guarantee," which provides free tuition for four years, a value of $60,000, is an effort toward increasing low-income students’ abilities to attend the Ann Arbor university, Schlissel said.

Schlissel said people talk about diversity but “we have been failing" since Proposition 2, the voter-approved law that prohibits state entities from granting “preferential treatment” to individuals on the basis of their "race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

“We are becoming a majority-minority nation,” he said. "If we can't capture that on campus, they won't learn what they need to in college.”

Mays, a DPS graduate, said she would ask for patience as the district rebuilds itself.

"When I look at these kids, I see myself. Someone who grew up by Seven Mile Road. I see hope. I see opportunity. I see beauty in our kids. It's easier for me to see that. But how do we inspire others to see the same?" she said. "How do you bring schools into that narrative so they think the schools matter?"