Dramatic changes proposed to Detroit's public K-12 schools

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dramatic changes have been proposed for Detroit's public schools in an effort to move students to buildings in good physical condition, increase the rigor at some high schools and boost enrollment in the state's largest district.

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent at Detroit Public Schools Community District, is proposing changes that would require students at King and Communications and Media Arts high schools to take an exam to be admitted, move the district's headquarters out of the Fisher building and shift schools, programs and boundary lines to spread resources.

"The changes that we have been talking about are not to address our district-wide facility issues," Vitti said. "They are a set of recommendations that can move more students to better facilities and can continue to help us increase enrollment district-wide by providing more competitive programming."

Vitti and his staff have been taking their ideas and solutions to the community in a series of public talks that run through Wednesday. District officials are collecting feedback from parents, taxpayers and others from the discussions to take to the school board in the spring.

The district has $543 million in facilities needs and repairs and can’t collect a single penny of taxes to address the problem. Waiting another four years to deal with the widespread poor building conditions would cause the price to soar to nearly $1.5 billion, according to an assessment by engineering consulting firm OHM Advisors.

Beginning in December and through January, Vitti will hold another set of "feeder-pattern" meetings to have a broader conversation on school buildings for which he has not proposed a plan. 

The proposals on the table affect about a dozen of the district's 100 schools. They include:

The district is proposing to convert Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School to a full exam school, keep its neighborhood boundary and introduce a sports marketing and medicine career academy. All students currently enrolled at the school would retain their placement.

Martin L. King Jr. Senior High School

The district is proposing to convert King to a full exam school, keep its neighborhood boundary and introduce a sports marketing and medicine career academy. All students currently enrolled at the school will retain their placement.

Vitti said DPSCD has demand for its other exam schools, such as Cass Tech and Renaissance, and by changing King to an exam school, it can better compete with higher-performing charter schools in the area.

"We think we can be more competitive in the city if we do this. We think we can bring those students back by converting," Vitti said.

Southeastern High School

Southeastern will maintain its exam school program of business administration and introduce a new advanced manufacturing program and career technical education programs, formerly at Golightly. A welding program at Golightly will relocate to Southeastern. 

"This is an opportunity to use the building in better quality," Vitti said of Southeastern.

Golightly Career and Technical Programming

The district's food and nutrition programming will relocate at Golightly to provide students with an immediate opportunity to gain work experience, Vitti said.

A printing, graphic and design department will be established at Golightly, and its programming will remain at the site. The culinary program stays at Golightly because much of the equipment and resources remain there, Vitti said.

Casimir Pulaski Elementary School would be closed and its students and staff would relocate to the Adult Education East Building, under a new proposal. The vacated Pulaski building would be used as an early learning center.

Pulaski K-8

Pulaski, which is an older building that requires substantial investment, would be closed and its students and staff would relocate to the Adult Education East Building. The vacated Pulaski building would be used as an early learning center, Vitti said.

"We would have to invest millions in that building," Vitti said of Pulaski. "We have adult ed down the road. It doesn’t make sense to make a multi-million investment in an old building."

Adult education programming at the Adult East and West Buildings 

Adult education programming would continue and be offered at Frederick Douglass High School. Currently, the district is using K-12 funding to the programming, Vitti said. The change would sustain programming but protect K-12 resources.

The Adult Education West building will continue to offer programming for families and the community while offering early learning opportunities before kindergarten by the district. The district’s family and community engagement team would be located at West.

Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, in Detroit, was originally created to offer a 6-12 grade education as an all-boys school. Under a new proposal, the school will function as a 9-12 high school for boys.

Frederick Douglass High School 

Originally created to offer 6-12 education as a single-gender boys schools, the school will function as a 9-12 high school for boys.

Detroit International Academy

The school, located at the former Northern High School, will move to the GEE White Academy building. The former Northern building will be repurposed to serve as central office and the site of school board meetings. Vitti is also considering the development of a DPS Athletic and History Hall of Fame Museum at the building.

The district's current central office, several floors at the Fisher Building, will be considered for leasing purposes or sale, Vitti said.

Under a new propsal, the Detroit International Academy for Young Women, located at the former Northern High School, will move to the GEE White Academy building.

Communication and Media Arts (CMA) High School 

CMA will relocate to Ludington Middle School where it could grow, Vitti said. The move would expand the high school’s access to athletic fields, school amenities and classroom space.

Vitti wants to convert CMA to an exam school, giving the district its first such school on the west side. All students currently enrolled at CMA will retain their placement at the school and future freshmen will apply through the exam process.

"We lose a lot of students on the west side to River Rouge. This would allow us to be more competitive on the west side," Vitti said.

The vacated CMA site will be used as an early learning center. The few students at Ludington Middle will have the option of staying at the school until eighth grade or returning to Charles Wright, which will become a K-8.

During a public meeting last month at CMA on the proposed changes, Vitti fielded a question by a parent in the audience about whether Ludington Middle School was large enough to accommodate high school students relocating there.

Vitti told the audience the middle school could absorb all of CMA's current students as well as up to 100 to 150 more.

Adrienne Word, a parent whose daughter attends CMA, said she had concerns about safety and transportation in the plan for the school but still supported the changes. 

However, she said, the district has other issues that should be addressed.

"They need to open more schools," she said after the meeting. "These schools are overcrowded."

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the teacher's union has concerns about making King and CMA application schools.

"We are starting to run out of schools that are traditional neighborhood schools," Martin said, "If we make more of our high schools application schools, then where does that student go? That is a bit of a concern."

Martin said the union is also concerned about how the changes could disrupt education for students and teachers. He does support the district leaving the high-cost Fisher building and moving into a high school.

"We are attending the meetings so we can hear what the plans are. We want our staff to digest what is being proposed," Martin said.

Adrienne Wood, a parent of a child at Communication and Media Arts School, asks Dr. Vitti a question during a conversation with parents and community about the proposed closing of the school.

Martin said he looks forward to the meetings this month as well as January when the district will explain its plan to address all the remaining buildings that are among the $543 million in needed repairs.

"That is a stark reality we have to face that schools may close," Martin said. "The next thing behind school closures is staff layoffs. We understand decisions have to be made. We want to be a part of the decision making."

Vitti said the district has spent $30 million in the last two years to invest in its buildings and will ask the board in the spring to approve spending another $30 million on buildings.

A bond proposal to address facilities could come in the future, Vitti said.

At the meetings in December and January, Vitti said he will discuss with the community the depth and cost of all the needed building repairs across the district, what kinds of school feeder patterns have evolved in neighborhoods and the impact of state disinvestment in the district when emergency managers operated the district.

The school board released a report on Nov. 14 detailing the impact emergency management has had on the district from 1999 to 2016. The report estimates the cost to the district was $610 million, including the costs of repairs, additional interest ion loans, real estate overspending and overbilling by contractors.

"We need to understand the disinvestment of the past and the fact we can't financially solve our own problem," Vitti said. "From there, it's about Detroiters understanding where we were and where we are. What does a solution look like a year or two from here?"


Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.

The last meeting on moving schools, programs and boundary lines for schools is:

  • Wednesday: Pulaski Elementary-Middle School, 5:30-7:30 p.m

Meeting about district-wide facilities. All meeting times are 5:30-7:30 p.m:

  • Thursday: Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern, 2200 W. Grand
  • Dec. 9: Cody High School, 18445 Cathedral
  • Dec. 11: Henry Ford High School, 20000 Evergreen
  • Dec. 12: Pershing High School, 18875 Ryan
  • Dec. 16: Mumford High School, 17525 Wyoming
  • Jan. 8: Denby High School, 12800 Kelly
  • Jan. 9: Martin Luther King Jr., Senior High School, 3200 E. Lafayette
  • Jan. 13: East English Village Preparatory High School, 5020 Cadieux
  • Jan. 15: Central High School, 2425 Tuxedo
  • Jan. 22: Western International High School,1500 Scotten
  • Jan. 23: Osborn High School, 11600 E. Seven Mile