Finalists to interview to lead Detroit’s schools

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Derrick Coleman and Nikolai Vitti both have ties to Metro Detroit, and they are vying for the same job.

Derrick Coleman

Coleman was a student at the former Detroit Public Schools and worked for the district for a time. Vitti still has family here and was raised in Dearborn Heights.

They both want to become superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District.

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They are the only two in the running after a third candidate dropped out.

One of the two finalists will be selected by the district school board following a blitz of school visits, meet and greets with administrators and faith-based leaders, labor and business people, among others. The interviewing process begins Wednesday with Vitti, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, and continues Monday with Coleman, superintendent of the River Rouge Public School District.

They each fit the criterion set by the firm hired by the board, Iowa-based Ray and Associates, requiring candidates to have been a superintendent or deputy superintendent for three to four years.

They were among 75 initial applicants who were narrowed down to a field of 10 and then three.

“These interview sessions represent the next phase of the process we outlined at the beginning of the superintendent search,” said Board President Iris Taylor in a statement. “It is our hope to soon select a permanent superintendent for the district.”

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Coleman, 45, has been superintendent in River Rouge since April 2012. Before that, he was the assistant superintendent/Region II superintendent, supervising 29 schools in the Detroit Public Schools District in 2008-11.

He said he believes he is uniquely qualified in part,because he received his K-12 education in the former DPS.

“I began my career as an ELA (English Language Arts) teacher in Detroit and represent the promise that Detroit children can hope to become,” he said. “I understand the city and the needs of the people.

“More importantly, we will create a system that is attractive to young adults seeking to find a community to have and raise children, to parents that have chosen to take their children elsewhere under the choice-options that are available to them, and to ensure we provide the highest quality education possible for the families that call DPSCD home.”

While serving as River Rouge superintendent, Coleman’s resume notes he prevented the imminent closure of the district by formulating and executing an “aggressive local and regional marketing and student recruitment campaign that eliminated a $3.4 million dollar deficit 2 years upon arrival and 1 year ahead of schedule.”

He said enrollment increased by more than 85 percent, and he opened the River Rouge K-8 STEM Academy during the 2014-15 academic year. He also said he sustained financial stability and is anticipating a surplus of $4.1 million for fiscal year 2016-17.

Coleman has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastern Michigan University and is a doctor of education candidate at Gwynedd Mercy University in East Norriton, Pennsylvania, in the School of Graduate and Professional Studies.

Vitti, 40, has been superintendent of Duval County Public Schools since November 2012.

Nickolai Vitti

Before that, he was the chief academic officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools in 2012 and was assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Miami-Dade Public Schools from 2010 to 2012.

Vitti said he was born and raised in Metro Detroit, and his mother and extended family still live here.

“I am applying for this extraordinary challenge and opportunity because of my deep and unwavering belief in urban public education and my love for my home city of Detroit,” he said in his statement of application.

“The city’s voters have demanded and received an elected school board. The school board’s success will rest upon its decision to select the right leader who has the vision, track record, experience, commitment, strength and perseverance for the job. I believe that I am that leader who is ready to collaboratively own the success of DPSCD’s future with the board.”

Regarding his accomplishments in the district as superintendent, he said despite a new set of national standards and assessments, the district’s grade increased to a “B” and was maintained for consecutive years for the first time since 2010. He said 75 percent of schools are “As-Cs” and 70 percent of state assessment areas demonstrated improvement and outpaced statewide improvement.

Vitti earned a doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in education, administration, planning and social policy. He received his master’s degree of education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a master’s degree from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Vitti said his current job is the only superintendent position he has held.

“I have two years remaining on my contract, but I am able to discontinue it without penalty,” he said.

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