Vitti: Detroit schools ‘building momentum’

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, says he knows he is in the hot seat after multiple state-installed emergency managers failed to resolve long-standing educational and financial problems in the district.

Nikolai Vitti, right, Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools, speaks to Bankole Thompson during the "State of Education in Detroit" held at Wayne Community College District's downtown campus on Tuesday August 22, 2017.

Asked how he would be different, Vitti, who who took over the district in late May, told a crowd gathered at Wayne County Community College District’s Downtown Campus that he is highly trained, an instructional leader and has been successful in his past posts in Florida and New York where he ran urban school districts.

“I have been someone who has always run to the fight and not run away from the fight,” Vitti said. “Traditional public education at-scale is the greatest vehicle for social change, social justice and social transformation. My entire life has been about equal opportunity and proving people wrong.”

Vitti, a native of Detroit, discussed the state of education in the city Tuesday at WCCC’s District’s Downtown Campus in the 90-minute forum. About 150 people attended. Detroit News columnist Bankole Thompson moderated the forum.

Vitti discussed the teacher shortage, which is larger than last year, Vitti said, because the district reacquired 10 of its schools from the Education Achievement Authority, and only about 50 percent of EAA teachers have reapplied for jobs in the district. Of the 340 vacancies, 85 are in former EAA schools.

Vitti said the district is moving forward with plans to create a parent academy and an advisory council at every school to engage parents. It is also preparing a request for proposal to evaluate all districts buildings and facilities to determine if they meet current standards and to identify what changes need to be made to update them for 2018-19 school year.

Vitti, who said his own four children will attend school in the district, also wants to expand at the high schools career and technical education programs and dual enrollment, which allows high school students to earn community college credits.

The district will not be rebuilt in a day, a month or a year, Vitti said.

“The average person who has been paying attention has seen a new energy, a new level of engagement and a level of transparency,” he said. “We are building momentum. That is different and people are recognizing that.”

Parent Shawnta Ward said she was satisfied with Vitti’s approach to rebuild the district from the ground up. She has a son in the 10th grade in the district.

“Starting with teachers and the fact he wants to include parents in the parent academy — I was very satisfied with his answers, but I’m still waiting and seeing. This is my last child at DPS,” she said.