Groups call for extended Detroit superintendent search

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Detroit Branch NAACP and other groups are asking the state to let the city’s new school district extend and widen its search for a new superintendent.

Derrick R. Coleman, head of River Rouge Public Schools

Members spoke out about the search during a news conference Monday, joined by representatives from the Skillman Foundation, New Detroit and Black Family Development Inc. as well as other groups with ties to the city.

After a nationwide search, two finalists are vying to become superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District: Derrick R. Coleman, head of River Rouge Public Schools, and Nikolai Vitti, who leads the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida.

Nikolai Vitti, who leads the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida

The contract for interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, who was appointed by the district's then-emergency manager, Judge Steven Rhodes, expires June 30. She has not been a finalist, but the American Federation of Teachers Detroit has said she should be given an opportunity to interview for the position.

The $617 million bailout Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan legislators approved last summer created the new Detroit public school district, replacing a debt-saddled entity that had been run by state-appointed emergency managers since 2009. The legislation also called for a superintendent search to take only 90 days.

Detroit Branch NAACP leaders on Monday pointed out what they consider issues including the district’s newly elected board having only been in place since January and a short timeline to fill its top spot.

“We believe that it is unreasonable for the Detroit board to be compelled and basically be given very limited time by the Financial Review Commission and the state to select a superintendent for the people of the city of Detroit,” officials said in a statement. “Members of the board have not had an adequate time to really get control of the key issues in this district as well as to assimilate the essential knowledge and issues facing the areas previously discussed.

“In the face of this reality, it is our belief that the time for the search for the General Superintendent should be extended, and that the pool of candidates should be deeper.”

Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Snyder’s office, said in an email that the governor and Financial Review Commission “do not oversee the hiring of the superintendent. The 90-day time period was set into law as signed last summer.”

The district retained Ray and Associates for the search in late January, after community input through surveys and focus groups. Seventy-five applicants from around the country sought the job.

The search firm narrowed the field to 10 applicants. The board reviewed the application packages, including videos, in closed session. Board members were given an individual number for anonymity and each member scored the applicants individually and submitted their score cards to the search firm. The firm then tallied the scores of applicants and gave each applicant a number prior to going into open session, so that names could remain confidential.