Vitti plans career academies for all Detroit high schools

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Ja'Mea DeLaine was a student at Randolph Career and Technical Center this past school year.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District wants to create career academies at all of its high schools so students can seek high-growth, high-demand industry jobs.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has developed a three-year plan for the 22 high schools across the district to get kids ready for either college or technical careers.

The plan, which he presented to a curriculum and academic committee of the Board of Education on Monday, would add or expand career academies toQuicken Loans joins effort to end veteran homelessness focus on in-demand jobs in such fields as information technology, health sciences and engineering.

It would also deepen the work going on at the district's three career technical centers — Breithaupt, Golightly and Randolph — by adding programs in such industries as welding, autonomous vehicles and construction design.

Other new career program ideas include a teacher academy at Western International High, a sports marketing program at King High, a nursing and medical assistant program at East English Village, and veterinarian sciences at the Detroit International Academy for Young Women.

All the programs would have partnerships with community colleges, universities or other institutions, such as the Detroit Zoo, and could include dual enrollment opportunities for students, which provide college credit during high school, school officials say.

"I am interested in being intentional about creating multiple pathways for students," Vitti said. "It's about creating relevant experiences for students so high school is not a pathway to nowhere, and there is a springboard for college and careers."

He could not provide a dollar amount for the entire three-year plan but said "we will have to fund the development of these programs. A lot can come philanthropically, and surplus dollars are available."

Vitti and his team have spent the last four months taking a look at what the district was offering juniors and seniors in the form of career pathways.

They interviewed principals, teachers and students and walked through each high school. The team, Vitti said, found no clear plan for career pathway education, geographic gaps where schools had no programs and no data about grads who completed career technical education programs.

Pending school board approval, Vitti's plan could start this fall by adding robotics career academies to Denby and Pershing high schools, which currently have no career technical education programs, and an IT and database administration program to Central High.

It would also add welding programs to Randolph and Breithaupt, two of the district's current career technical centers.

In the 2019-20 school year, the district would undergo its largest expansion with 20 new programs, with two new more in 2020-21.

Culinary Arts students Raquel Whitler, left, 18, and Monique Sturdivant, 16, both of Detroit, serve food to news conference attendees at the Breithaupt Career and Technical School on March 25, 2018. New investment was announced to aid revitalization efforts at the center.

Vitti said the district needs a system that provides access at all high schools, offers programs with high-growth, high-wage jobs, and develops an identity at every high school using the career pathway program.

"It's trying to create uniqueness and identity at every school so there is a distinction at every school," said Vitti, "so we can create the right menu of options for students and parents moving forward." 

Another goal of the career pathways reboot is to increase enrollment at all the high schools, through programming currently not offered, Vitti said.

Vitti also wants to pursue dual enrollment opportunities with Wayne County Community College District where high school students can gain college credit before graduating. 

"It's a pathway directly into college. Many are ready or interested and don't have the opportunity to see it," he said. "We think (a partnership) will allow career academics to go deeper and be stronger."

Vitti said the plan would require the district to hire an additional one-to-four teachers at each high school and train them in the specialty area. The district would also need to purchase the necessary tools, equipment and workspaces. Vitti said he plans to speak to the city's Workforce Development team and about connecting industry into the new programs.

"I don't think we have a talent gap. We have an opportunity gap," he said. "Building out this plan and supporting it through business allows us to fill that gap."

The entire DPSCD Board of Education will likely discuss the plan at the board's July 10 meeting.

Misha Stallworth, a member of the curriculum and academic committee, asked Vitti about whether programs in leadership, social justice and community activism could be part of the new programming.

“We have such a huge, growing interest in community activism and leadership,” Stallworth said.

Vitti said some programs like that could be offered as electives to complement career education.

Students are still free to select any of the 22 high schools to attend, but Cass Tech, Renaissance and King will still require applications.

In April, Mayor Mike Duggan and Quicken Loans and Bedrock announced a $1 million investment in the Breithaupt Career and Technical School at DPSCD.

The investment kicked off the city’s efforts to raise $9 million to revitalize the school’s training programs and infrastructure over the next three years.

When the improvements are completed, Breithaupt will serve hundreds of youth and adults seeking skilled trades training and career pathways, city officials said.

Breithaupt trains students in culinary arts, retail, hospitality, automotive service, collision repair; and mechatronics and welding.

The school served about 450 students last school year and expects to grow to over 650 students as a result of this investment, city officials said. Over the next three years, plans call for Breithaupt to serve 2,000 youth and adults.

The investment was the first major contribution to the project, a partnership between DPSCD, Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, the City of Detroit and Duggan’s Workforce Development Board.

Breithaupt is the second of Detroit’s career technical education schools to be revitalized after Randolph CTE center underwent a similar $10 million renovation, adding programs and replacing old equipment last school year.

More than 300 high school students attend training programs at Randolph during the day in such fields as electrical, plumbing and masonry. After school, more than 300 adults train in the same fields, city officials said.

The CTE programs at Randolph and Breithaupt saw declines in enrollment before the partnership started the revitalization efforts. Now, DPSCD has seen increased enrollment at Randolph and expects enrollment to go up at Breithaupt, city officials said.

Cosmetology student Cydneedru Jackson, 17, of Detroit, styles hair on mannequins prior to a March 25, 2018 news conference at the Breithaupt Career and Technical School to announce revitalization efforts for the center.

Dave Meador, vice chairman of DTE Energy Co. and co-chair of the Mayor’s Workforce Development board, said his company is facing a huge retirement wave with half of its workforce retiring in the next 10 years.

With students leaving high school in Detroit with no direct path to technical training or skilled training, something had to be done, Meador said.

DTE Energy Co. invested $1.1 million in Randolph last year where electrical and welding had been completely shut down. Out of the 100 seniors who graduated from Randolph this month, Meador said 15 are going into an apprenticeship program. Of those, five are going into electrical.

"A few years ago that was impossible," Meador said. "Fifteen is not huge, but it will grow."

Starting last fall with 80 students, Randolph had 310 students at the end of the school year, Meador said, with a goal of 450 this fall.

"The goal is to connect them to summer youth employment, graduating apprenticeships, workforce or college," Meador said. "There is so much confidence here. Everybody (in the business community) wants to be a part of this."

The $10 million investment at Randolph included $3.5 million from the Gordie Howe Bridge Workforce Training program, $1.75 million from the City of Detroit Workforce Training Fund and $1.5 million from the Ralph C Wilson Jr. Foundation.

Lavea Brachman, vice president of programs at the Wilson Foundation, manages the grant to Randolph and has visited the school several times.

"The building has been dramatically upgraded," Brachman said. "They have great equipment the kids can use, and it allows the kids to experiment with learning construction, measuring things and applying them.

Brachman said the foundation is excited to work with the city to help it fill the real needs of employers for skilled trades workers.

The foundation is considering some other funding request for career technical education programs but wants to focus on supporting the centers rather than academies inside schools. It provides funding to the nonprofit Detroit Employment Solutions Corp., not the district.

"They are only a year into this, and we will see what it yield," Brachman said. "It certainly has a lot of promise."