School year begins for thousands of Michigan students
Kicking off his second school year as superintendent at Detroit Public Schools Community District, Nikolai Vitti said on Tuesday that he already is seeing change across the district.
The district's teacher shortage has been reduced from 200 to 90 positions, Vitti said, and enrollment — which hovered around 50,000 last school year — appeared to Vitti to be up.
Vitti also noted several changes for the 2018-19 school year, including new math and reading curriculums for K-8, master teachers in schools, newly added SAT prep courses for high schools and art and music programming at each K-8 school.
"For us, every year we are going to get better and better. This is our second full year, and I already see a difference," Vitti said. "I am excited about our curriculum. All books arrived before the school year started. Two schools that I have visited so far appear cleaner than last year."
Vitti declined to provide exact numbers but said: "enrollment, anecdotally, appears to be up again."
But teacher vacancies remain in special education and K-5, Vitti said.
"We have made significant improvements and hired hundreds of more staff than we did in previous years — such as deans, assistant principals, p.e. teachers, art teachers, music teachers, plus master teachers," Vitti said. "We have good momentum."
The new literacy curriculum launching this fall includes the creation of classroom libraries and the arrival of thousands of new books for students in grades K-8, DPSCD officials said.
A lack of textbooks, take-home books, novels, readers and other materials has been a common complaint across the district for years, but now elementary and middle school students in the Detroit district have stacks of new books in their classrooms.
Vitti has said the new curriculum is one of the most important elements of the district's education reform plan because it's directly tied to teaching and learning. The district is also adopting a new math curriculum.
Vitti is also creating career academies at all DPSCD high schools so students can seek high-growth, high-demand industry jobs.
His three-year plan calls for the 22 high schools across the district to get kids ready for either college or technical careers.The plan, would add or expand career academies to focus on in-demand jobs in such fields as information technology, health sciences and engineering.
Vitti agreed to be a part of northwest Detroit school bus loop pilot intended to lure Detroit children who attend school outside the city back into Detroit schools.
The loop plan for the 2018-19 school year includes six schools in the DPSCD and four charter schools in the area near McNichols and the Lodge Freeway.
Only students in grades K-8 will be served by the system, which is expected to cost $1.2 million to $1.4 million. Participating charters, DPSCD and the Skillman Foundation are funding the system.
On Tuesday, as students learned who their new teachers would be, others picked out free backpacks stocked with school supplies.
Outside Pasteur Elementary School, students and parents were greeted as they walked into the building by a row of well-dressed men from New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church.
Members of the church’s men’s ministry came to the school to greet students and encourage them in their educational journey, the Rev. Carnel Richardson said.
“We have adopted the school and we are here to encourage the children to have a great school year and start off their year with some positive encouragement. And let them know they can do whatever they want in life if they get an education and it starts here at elementary school,” Richardson said.
Pasteur Principal Sharon Lawson said her school does not have any teacher vacancies and class sizes in the younger grades are averaging 22 students.
"What is going to happen is enrollment will go up as parents continue to come in and enroll," Lawson said. "A lot of parents are here today enrolling."
Marveonna McCray, a fifth-grader who attends Schulze Elementary School, got a ride to school on her dad's motorcycle on Tuesday.
Marveonna said she is looking forward to reading, studying and seeing her friends. Her father, Marvin, said he loves the teaching staff at the school.
"The whole school is very decent," he said. "I am pleased with her education."
Schulze principal Angela Kemp said she has two master teachers in her building this year: one in math and one in English language arts. She also has a new full-time gym teacher and full-time art teacher in her building this year.
"It's about the whole child — just like English, math and social studies — they need to learn and explore art and different types of sports," Kemp said.