Education – Daily Detroit http://www.dailydetroit.com What To Know And Where To Go In Metro Detroit Fri, 17 Nov 2017 20:35:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 City Year Detroit Raises $110,000 During Annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/11/17/city-year-detroit-raises-110000-annual-womens-leadership-breakfast/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/11/17/city-year-detroit-raises-110000-annual-womens-leadership-breakfast/#respond Fri, 17 Nov 2017 20:35:27 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=39648 On Thursday morning I went to City Year’s 7th annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast.

Every year, City Year Detroit holds this breakfast as a way to discuss empowering young Detroiters. This year the topic was how City Year could help foster a strong workforce in Detroit.

I see two separate ways that City Year is helping the next generation get ready for workforce development.

The main way is with the work the  City Year Americorps members are doing in the schools. These corps members are young adults from the ages of 18-25 who spend 10 hours a day working in classrooms, spending one on one time with students who need help in mathematics and literacy, and by planning activities for students.

So the students that are being assisted are less likely to fall behind and they are less likely to drop out of college.

The second way City Year is helping with workforce development with the the corps members themselves.

These young people are learning key skills that will help them later in life. They are problem solving, working as a team work and also teaching others.

Once these corps members finish their time at City Year they have a great opportunity to get a job or to continue their education.

For instance:

  • The University of Michigan Law School has a $30,000 scholarship for alumni of City Year.
  • City Year alumni who want to get their masters in education can get a scholarship to the University of Michigan for $15,000.
  • Alumni that are accepted to University of Detroit Mercy Law School can get a 25% discount on tuition.

In the past two years, 80% of the City Year Detroit alumni have decided to continue to live in the city.

Which means all of that talent is staying within the city. And talent staying in Detroit? That’s a good thing.

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$50 Million Effort Aims To Improve Lives Of Detroit Kids http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/11/10/50-million-effort-aims-improve-lives-detroit-kids/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/11/10/50-million-effort-aims-improve-lives-detroit-kids/#respond Fri, 10 Nov 2017 19:35:23 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=39503 The two major foundations behind the creation of a ten-year plan to improve the lives of Detroit’s youngest children are putting up $50 million to help put the plan into action.

As they unveiled the new Hope Starts Here framework Friday morning, the Kellogg and Kresge foundations announced they would each spend $25 million in the next few years to improve the health and education of children aged birth to 8 in the city.

The money will go toward upgrading early childhood education centers, including a new Kresge-funded comprehensive child care center that the foundation says it hopes to break ground on next year at a location that has not yet been identified.

Other foundation dollars will go toward a just-launched centralized data system that will keep track of a range of statistics on the health and welfare of young children, and more training and support for early childhood educators.

The announcement at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History drew dozens of parents, educators and community leaders. Among them was Detroit Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who said one of the major impediments to improving conditions for young children has been divisions between the various government and nonprofit entities that run schools, daycares and health facilities for young kids.

Vitti said the district would do its part to “to break down the walls of territorialism that has prevented this work from happening” in the past.

Watch the video of of the announcement here.

Editor’s Note: Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools. Daily Detroit syndicates their content with permission. Meet the local writers of Chalkbeat here on our Daily Detroit Happy Hour podcast.

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Dozens Of Detroit Schools Added To State’s List For Low Test Scores, But Forced Closure Not A Threat For Now http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/11/03/dozens-detroit-schools-added-states-list-low-test-scores-forced-closure-not-threat-now/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/11/03/dozens-detroit-schools-added-states-list-low-test-scores-forced-closure-not-threat-now/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 17:15:46 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=39396 More than two dozen struggling Detroit schools will likely be added to the state’s “partnership” program after posting years of rock-bottom test scores.

That will bring to 50 the number of Detroit schools in the program, which requires schools to meet certain improvement targets or face consequences.

Those consequences could include closure or a staff shake-up but, for now at least, decisions about the schools’ fates will rest with local school boards. State officials say they currently have no plans to force schools to close.

That’s a big change from earlier this year when 38 schools across Michigan were told they were in danger of being shuttered after landing in the bottom 5 percent of state rankings for three years in a row.

Plans to close those schools were abandoned in the face of intense political opposition. Instead, the 37 schools that remained open (the one charter school on the list was closed by its authorizer) entered into “partnership agreements” with the state that require them to improve. (Read Detroit’s here).

On Monday, the state released a list of schools to be added to the partnership program. The state will now enter into negotiations with seven districts that don’t already have agreements. Among them are two Detroit charter schools — the David Ellis Academy and the Henry Ford Academy: School of Creative Studies Elementary.

Detroit’s main district, which already had 24 schools in the program, had another 24 schools added to the list. In addition, the district was invited to include nine schools that state says are trending in the wrong direction. With those nine schools, almost half of the 106 schools in the main district could be in the program.

“These will be positive, yet pressing, conversations with the leaders of these districts to get their struggling schools back on track,” state Superintendent Brian Whiston said in a statement. “We want to provide as many local and state-level partners as possible to help students in these schools be successful.”

The state’s press release has more details and the full list of Michigan schools that have been added to the program — as well as schools that have been removed from watch lists after showing improvement.

Here’s the list of Detroit schools that are now in the program:

Newly added:

  • David Ellis Academy (charter)
  • Henry Ford Academy: School of Creative Studies-Elementary (charter)
  • Blackwell Institute
  • Brewer Elementary-Middle School
  • Carstens Elementary-Middle School
  • Central High School
  • Cody Academy of Public Leadership
  • Detroit International Academy for Young Women
  • Dixon Elementary
  • Dossin Elementary-Middle School
  • Earhart Elementary-Middle School
  • East English Village Prep Academy
  • Duke Ellington at Beckham
  • Emerson Elementary-Middle Schools
  • Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School
  • King High School
  • John R. King Academy and Performing Arts Academy
  • Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School
  • Mann Elementary
  • Marshall Elementary
  • Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy
  • Nobel Elementary-Middle School
  • Palmer Park Prep Academy
  • Pulaski Elementary-Middle School
  • Schulze Elementary-Middle School
  • Wayne Elementary

Schools that have the option to join the program:  

  • Academy of the Americas (Optional)
  • Bagley Elementary (Optional)
  • Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts (Optional)
  • Carver Elementary-Middle School (Optional)
  • Edison Elementary (Optional)
  • Ludington Magnet Middle School (Optional)
  • Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody (Optional)
  • Nichols Elementary-Middle School (Optional)
  • Spain Elementary-Middle School (Optional)

Already in the program:

  • Ann Arbor Trail Magnet School
  • Bow Elementary-Middle School
  • Clark, J.E. Preparatory Academy
  • Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School @ Northwestern
  • Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody
  • Durfee Elementary-Middle School
  • Fisher Magnet Upper Academy
  • Gompers Elementary-Middle School
  • Henderson Academy
  • Marquette Elementary-Middle School
  • Mason Elementary School
  • Osborn Academy of Mathematics
  • Osborn College Preparatory Academy
  • Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy
  • Sampson Academy
  • Thirkell Elementary School
  • Burns Elementary-Middle School
  • Denby High School
  • Ford High School
  • Law Elementary School
  • Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School
  • Mumford High School
  • Pershing High School
  • Southeastern High School

Editor’s Note: Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools. Daily Detroit syndicates their content with permission. Meet the local writers of Chalkbeat here on our Daily Detroit Happy Hour podcast.

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Detroiter Named A Top 10 Hero By CNN, Needs Your Vote To Be “Hero Of The Year” http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/11/03/detroiter-named-top-10-hero-cnn-needs-vote-hero-year/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/11/03/detroiter-named-top-10-hero-cnn-needs-vote-hero-year/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 14:21:56 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=39369 When it comes to programs that help kids, it’s difficult to match the determination and results of the Downtown Boxing Gym on the near east side of the city.

Khali Sweeney (we’ve had him as a guest on our Daily Detroit Happy Hour podcast) founded and runs the after-school program that serves 156 Detroit students from the ages of 8-18.

There are some impressive numbers behind the program. For students involved, has a 100% high school graduation rate since 2007, because it focuses on “books before boxing.” Students participate in athletics after getting their homework done. There’s also a series of programs that provide support beyond the basics — extracurricular and enrichment activities that are sorely lacking in Detroit — such as computer coding, robotics, cooking, and music.

Sweeney understands that in Detroit, the need for services for kids extends way beyond opening your doors, and includes a fleet of six vans to get people where they need to go (and it’s not unheard of for him to drive the van himself).

Here’s the thing. There’s more to do. As you can guess, the need is high.

“Right now, there are 850 students on our waiting list. We will not rest until we can make a difference in their lives, too. The work we are doing not only impacts our students and their families – it has a positive impact on our community, the city of Detroit, and the world. Thank you for all of your votes and support,” said Sweeney.

The 2017 Top 10 CNN Heroes, in its 11th year, celebrates individuals who are making extraordinary contributions to help improve the lives of others. Here’s where you come in.

Voting is now open to select the ‘CNN Hero of the Year’ by voting for the Top 10 CNN Hero who inspires them the most. And we’re from Detroit, so we’re totally biased for our hometown favorites (and he’s the only one from Detroit), so vote for Khali.

You can vote daily at CNNHeroes.com via email or Facebook, as well as on Facebook Messenger by messaging VOTE to the CNN Heroes Facebook page.

This is a case where you are supposed to vote early and vote often. You can vote up to 10x a day, per method, every day through Tuesday, December 12 at midnight Pacific Time.

The winner will be announced by Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live on the The 11th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute. All 10 honorees on Sunday, December 17 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

The good news is that Khali is already a winner as a top 10 finalist, with the organization receiving $10,000. But your vote could make a big difference difference as the ‘CNN Hero of the Year’ will receive an additional $100,000.

Here’s the link again.

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73% Of Metro Detroit High Schoolers Go On To College. Only 35% Of Those Kids Get A Degree. http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/10/16/73-metro-detroit-high-schoolers-go-college-35-kids-get-degree/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/10/16/73-metro-detroit-high-schoolers-go-college-35-kids-get-degree/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 20:00:47 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=38977 It’s a sobering statistic, especially as the world moves more and more toward technology- and information-related careers.

According to data from Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information, 73 percent of the region’s high school graduates enroll in college within a year of graduating. That’s not so bad, compared to the nation.

However, just 35 percent — a little over a third — of those graduates earn a degree or credential within six years.

The problem is even more stark in the city of Detroit, where the majority of high schools have graduating classes with less than 10 percent of students going on to earn a four-year degree or a credential.

It’s a situation that if not addressed now, will significantly hurt the competitiveness of the entire Detroit region.

In a bid to help address this, the Kresge Foundation has launched through the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation a new comprehensive plan and campaign to increase the number of people who get degrees and high-skill accreditations in Southeast Michigan.

They’ve backed it up with funding to the tune of $450,000.

“We want to help Detroit fulfill its workforce needs using its own homegrown talent,” said Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation in a statement. “Detroiters are hungry for the opportunity to get to work, and this initiative will help ensure they’re equipped with the skills, education and credentials required to do just that. We know a postsecondary education is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to move into the economic mainstream, and we’re proud to partner with the Chamber to help more Detroiters and people from across the region get that education.”

The funding will help power the “Detroit Drives Degrees,” a program first started in 2015 made up of education, business, philanthropy, government and nonprofit community leaders to work to address the lack of residents without higher education credentials or college degrees compared to like across the country.

The Detroit Regional Chamber wants to create what they’re calling a “strategic blueprint” to help figure the problem out.

“The Kresge Foundation’s grant allows the Chamber to both develop and implement a strategic blueprint to bolster postsecondary attainment throughout the region. Philanthropic partners like Kresge play a key role in helping us reach our goal of increasing individuals with postsecondary degrees from 43 to 60 percent by 2025,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Chamber.

If you’re a current or former college student, what have you found are some of the issues in staying in college or training programs?

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The Pizza And Prizes Michigan Schools Use To Lure Students On Count Day Are ‘Unfortunate.’ But Is There A Better Way? http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/10/08/pizza-prizes-michigan-schools-use-lure-students-count-day-unfortunate-better-way/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/10/08/pizza-prizes-michigan-schools-use-lure-students-count-day-unfortunate-better-way/#respond Sun, 08 Oct 2017 15:56:47 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=38808 Schools across the state brought out donuts, dinosaurs, smoothies and all manor of special events on Wednesday to lure as many students to school as humanly possible.

It’s all part of a school funding system in Michigan that determines how much money schools receive from the state based on the number of students in class on “Count Day.”

“It’s not the best way to count students,” state Superintendent Brian Whiston told Chalkbeat. “But I just don’t know of a better way of doing it.”

Michigan is one of nine states that tie per-student funding to attendance on two or more school days, often one day in the fall and another in the spring. (In Michigan, fall count day determines 90 percent of per-pupil funding, while the spring day accounts for the other 10 percent.) Another 10 states use a single count day, while others use average attendance or other methods.

“It’s unfortunate,” Whiston said, that schools put so many resources into “pizza parties, fairs, festivals, anything to get kids excited about coming to school.” But other counting methods like using average attendance would also be problematic, he said, because schools with low average attendance still need enough money to meet the needs of all enrolled students.

“That doesn’t really work because if the student is there, we have to have a teacher,” Whiston said. “If they miss so many days, we still have to have the teacher.”

Michigan began relying on Count Day when it changed to a per-pupil funding system more than 20 years ago. But the day has become more crucial in recent years as the state’s shrinking school-age population has forced districts to aggressively compete for students, said Craig Thiel, research director at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

“Over the past 10-12 years, as the public school pie has decreased in size, the smaller pie has been sliced in many more pieces. Districts compete vigorously for their slice of the pie,” Thiel said.

In Detroit, schools partnered with businesses, artists and other groups to encourage students to show up and be counted.

Students at Sampson Webber Academy partnered with artist Alex Cook and Beyond Basics, a non-profit literacy organization, to paint a mural.

At Coleman A. Young Elementary School, UAW-Ford donated 50,000 ID kits to all district students for Count Day. (The brother of this school’s principal is with the UAW.) Each kit contains two inkless fingerprint cards, two DNA collection swabs and two activator cards. After collecting the samples and completing the activator card with the child’s information, parents can store the kit for safe keeping. If needed, it can be delivered to authorities to help track the missing child.

A dinosaur visited Michigan Math and Science Academy in Warren:

Detroit’s main district put together a countdown video to make sure kids understood the importance of the day.

Editor’s Note: Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools. Daily Detroit syndicates their content with permission. You can learn more about the writers of Chalkbeat through an interview with them on our Daily Detroit Happy Hour podcast.

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The Prospect Of A $30,000 Pay Cut Pushed This Teacher Out Of Detroit Schools And To The Suburbs http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/10/06/prospect-30000-pay-cut-pushed-teacher-detroit-schools-suburbs/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/10/06/prospect-30000-pay-cut-pushed-teacher-detroit-schools-suburbs/#respond Fri, 06 Oct 2017 20:18:10 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=38805 When the school year began at Detroit’s Central High School last month, a beloved teacher was missing.

Quincy Stewart, who was featured in a June Chalkbeat story about his innovative use of music to teach students about African-American history, had been determined to stay at Central.

“I do this is because I’m a black man and these are black children,” he told Chalkbeat last spring. “These children have been robbed by this system from the cradle until right now … And when they walk in my classroom, all I feel is love for them.”

But love, unfortunately, doesn’t pay the bills.

Stewart was one of scores of teachers in the Education Achievement Authority, the now-dissolved state-run recovery district, who faced massive pay cuts when their schools reverted to Detroit’s main district in July.

In Stewart’s case, that pay cut came to $30,000 — more than a 40 percent reduction to the $72,000 he made last year.  

“They put me in a position where I had to make a decision between being able to pay my bills and staying dedicated to the students that I was there to serve,” Stewart said. “People in the central office are making $200,000, $160,000 and they’re paying us, seasoned teachers, $38,000? I’m in my 50s! That’s Burger King money!”

Stewart, who was also featured in a DPTV broadcast this summer, said he felt he had no choice but to accept a higher-paying job in the suburbs.

“It was a hard decision but I had to go where I could at least pay my bills,” he said. “It’s very easy for people to sit on the sidelines and judge that, but … I would have literally had to work there and work a part-time job just to survive.”

Stewart is one of dozens of EAA teachers who did not return to their jobs this year — a major reason why Detroit’s main district is still struggling to fill 150 teacher vacancies.

The district says that nearly a third of those vacancies are in 11 former EAA schools — even though those schools account for a small portion of teaching positions across the district’s 106 schools.  

With those jobs unfilled, some students are in classrooms led by non-certified substitutes. Others are missing out on programs like the one at Central. The school is not currently offering music at all.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district is working to aggressively recruit teachers. He told Chalkbeat last week that he is talking with the city teachers union to negotiate incentives for teachers in “hard to staff” positions. But that program will prioritize special education teachers and those who teach core subjects like reading and math. It won’t help fill Stewart’s position at Central.

“We have to make decisions … based on where the challenges are greatest,” Vitti said.

The pay cuts imposed on teachers from former EAA schools is only partly driven by the fact that the union-negotiated pay scale for teachers in the main district is lower than what many EAA teachers had been making.

Another factor was that the new teachers contract, signed by the union and district this summer, offers educators who come in from outside the district just two years of salary credit regardless of their experience.

That’s far less than some Michigan districts where teachers can change jobs without giving up pay. And it’s a different policy than the EAA used. The recovery district had paid teachers more if they came in with experience in other schools.

Vitti says he regrets that senior teachers in the EAA faced steep pay cuts but the main district had to consider teachers who’ve endured years of pay cuts and wage freezes in Detroit schools.

“We can’t just increase pay for a group of teachers that are coming in from the outside,” Vitti told Central’s principal Abraham Sohn on the first day of school as the two walked by the school’s empty band room where Stewart used to teach. “That doesn’t send the right message.”

Vitti has vowed to raise teacher salaries in the near future, calling that a priority for the district.

Someday, Stewart said, wages might be high enough that he’ll consider returning to Detroit. But for now, he’s committed to his new job at Harper Woods High School, just east of the city, he said. He urged the district to find a way to increase pay for all of its teachers.

“If they really truly cared about having seasoned, quality teachers, they would make an effort to pay them,” he said. “Even a teacher with a doctorate is only going to make maybe $60,000 and that’s just preposterous. You owe more in student loans than you make in salary.”

Editor’s Note: Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools. Daily Detroit syndicates their content with permission. You can learn more about the writers of Chalkbeat through an interview with them on our Daily Detroit Happy Hour podcast.

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Here’s What Detroit Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti Says He Can Do By Next Year http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/09/23/heres-detroit-schools-superintendent-nikolai-vitti-says-can-next-year/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/09/23/heres-detroit-schools-superintendent-nikolai-vitti-says-can-next-year/#respond Sat, 23 Sep 2017 23:07:04 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=38570

It could be years before Detroiters see significant improvement in their struggling city schools, but Detroit’s new schools boss says there are some very specific ways that he expects to see some progress by next year.

Among them: improvements on test scores, attendance rates, teacher hiring and the amount of money district grads receive in college scholarships.

Those goals are spelled out in the documents that the Detroit school board plans to use to evaluate the new superintendent, Nikolai Vitti.

State law requires districts to evaluate superintendents on both their skills and how students perform on things like annual state exams, but Vitti asserted at a forum last week that his evaluation is “more rigorous than any superintendent in the state.”

The evaluation, he said, spells out “very clear metrics linked to reading proficiency, math proficiency, college readiness, college going, graduation rates, fully staffed status for teachers.”

The Detroit district faces countless problems including some of the nation’s lowest test scores, buildings in poor repair and a reputation so diminished among Detroiters that fewer than half of the city’s children are currently enrolled in the district’s schools.

Since arriving in May, Vitti has promised that he can transform the Detroit schools, but cautions that change won’t happen overnight.

“People have to be patient,” he said at last week’s forum. “We’re going to work with a sense of urgency. We’re working night and day, but this is not going to be rebuilt in a year. It took two decades in my calculation to break one of the best urban school districts in this country … We’re not going to rebuild it in a year.”

To see what Vitti says he can do in a year, read his evaluation targets below. The targets were approved by the Detroit school board last week.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools. Daily Detroit shares their content with their permission.

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Inside Nikolai Vitti’s Early Effort To Transform Detroit’s Battered Public Schools http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/09/11/inside-nikolai-vittis-early-effort-transform-detroits-battered-public-schools/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/09/11/inside-nikolai-vittis-early-effort-transform-detroits-battered-public-schools/#respond Tue, 12 Sep 2017 02:29:58 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=38288

Three months after taking on one of the most daunting tasks in American education, Nikolai Vitti was having a fit over pizza — $340,000 worth of pizza.

Vitti, Detroit’s new school superintendent, had just discovered that the district had set aside that eye-popping sum of money last year to pay Domino’s Pizza for what he assumed were hundreds of thousands of slices for parties in schools.

He was asked if he wanted to do the same for next year.  

“Do you really think for a minute I’m going to bring a contract to the board at $340,000 for Domino’s?!” he asked an aide. “That would be like — ‘Here — write a front page story about how inefficient this district is.’ Are you insane? Are you really insane!?”

In his first months on the job, Vitti had seen what he described as a shocking lack of basic financial and academic systems in the district. He’d seen contracts that were nonsensical, payments that had slipped through the cracks. He knew of principals who’d apparently given up on getting support from the district and had turned to a brand of survivalism to get what they needed for their schools.

“It is truly a district that has been mismanaged for over a decade,” he says.

But even by the standards of what he’d seen so far, the pizza contract seemed extreme.

“I love the explanation on why we need a Domino’s contract because it’s wholesale, right?” Vitti vented to an aide. “To reduce the price? And then everything else we do we have 700 vendors?! We decided to get it right for pizza but we didn’t get it right for toilet paper?”

But a day later, something surprising happened with that pizza contract.

As Vitti convened a meeting with top advisors, he learned that the Domino’s contract was not actually for parties. It was for a special pizza that Domino’s had created for schools called a “smart slice” that uses whole wheat flour and lower amounts of fat and salt to give kids a healthy alternative to less-popular lunch offerings.

That’s when a contract that Vitti had been lambasting for days became an inspiration.

“If we’re using Domino’s as a way to incentivize kids to eat … then why not do a bid for Chinese food?” he asked.

“Or Subway,” an aide suggested.

“We could get local businesses,” Vitti said. “A ton of local businesses! As long as they meet the nutritional value. … Think of all the things we could do with a Detroit small business connection to it!”

In fact, Vitti said, “if we really want to talk big, in every high school, you could have kids that are working to prep food and all that.”

“See,” he told his advisors gathered in a conference room adjoining his office in the district’s headquarters in Detroit’s iconic Fisher Building. “We went from Domino’s to a complete conversation about innovation. That’s why you have to have the conversation.”

* * *

Improving on pizza contracts might not seem like the kind of thing that can fix a school district like Detroit’s.

The schools here, which have some of the lowest test scores in the country, have become a national symbol of educational crisis. They remain the largest roadblock to the city’s resurgence nearly three years after its emergence from bankruptcy. The heralded improvements in the city’s downtown have had virtually no effect on its schools.

But Vitti, the 40-year-old father of four who took over the Detroit district last spring, has promised not just to improve the district’s 106 schools. He says he can transform them.

“We’re going to make this the best urban school district in the country,” he says in speeches and interviews.

He knows the odds are stacked incalculably against him — he felt it on the first day of school, when the system had 250 teacher vacancies, despite his public commitment to fill every position.

But he’s determined to give Detroiters something they haven’t had for their schools in a generation. He’s promised to give them hope.

If he’s going to do that, he says — or if he’s at least going to make some progress in that direction — he has to look for ideas in places like pizza contracts, where other leaders might see little potential for change.

He has to move beyond what he calls “compliance thinking” where decisions are made only to conform with legal requirements, to try to imagine a different future for the district.

And he has to do that while simultaneously attempting to bring order to a system that he describes as in total disarray.

Much of that disarray is well known: buildings that are crumbling and dirty; a severe teacher shortage that has robbed children of quality instruction; conditions so dismal that a federal lawsuit last year alleged they violate Detroit children’s right to basic literacy.

The district’s reputation has been so ravaged among Detroit parents that tens of thousands of families have fled the district for charter or suburban schools in recent years — fueled in part by the liberal school choice laws in Michigan that were promoted by Betsy DeVos before she became U.S. education secretary.

The exodus of families had left the district in such dire financial straits that it only avoided bankruptcy last year when the state put up $617 million to create a new district called the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

But those are just the problems you can see from the outside. Vitti understood them well before he left his job in May running the schools in Jacksonville, Florida, to take over the schools in his hometown. [He’s from nearby Dearborn Heights.]

On the inside, Vitti has discovered that the district he’s inherited is utterly broken.

“I mean we lack the systems for everything!” Vitti says. “Everything! For hiring teachers, onboarding teachers, paying teachers, ordering books, adopting books, cleaning buildings, seeing contracts, what contracts there are, how they’re executed, why they’re executed, what they’re used for, what they’re not used for.”

* * *

Since arriving in Detroit last spring, Vitti says he’s seen “pockets of excellence” in schools where devoted teachers have managed to weather years of turmoil and decline.

But when he talks about the the district’s central office, he becomes visibly angry.

What makes it all so infuriating, he says, is that the men from whom he inherited the district were supposed to be financial experts.

The state of Michigan had seized control of the district in 2009, citing a financial emergency, and installed a series of financial managers — five different men — who ran the district for eight years until the new school board took over in January.

Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti takes a call in his office on the 14th floor of Detroit’s iconic Fisher Building. Photo: Erin Einhorn

The loss of local control had been painful for Detroiters.

A school board chosen by voters had been rendered largely impotent while the men running the district had slashed teacher pay and shuttered dozens of schools with minimal community discussion. The closings accelerated enrollment declines — fewer than half of Detroit children remain in the district  — and left some city neighborhoods without any schools at all.

As an educator who worked as a teacher in North Carolina and New York City before entering a PhD program at Harvard University that trained urban superintendents, Vitti says he’s not surprised that the emergency managers didn’t get the academics right.

But you’d think they’d have figured out the nuts and bolts, he says.

“At a minimum, you would think an emergency financial manager would know nothing about education but would focus on systems and processes because that’s what Detroit lacked,” Vitti says. “And what I actually see is, you know, walking into this district, there was no vision for how a district or a central office supports schools.”

Example: The district promised bonuses to teachers who took hard-to-staff positions last year but, somehow, the bonus checks didn’t arrive when they were supposed to.

“It was frustrating,” says teachers union leader Ivy Bailey. “They were calling us asking, what’s the problem? And we didn’t know.”

The problem, Vitti learned, was that “the left hand had no idea what the right hand was doing. This was negotiated by labor relations. It was somewhat understood by HR but then finance wouldn’t know about it.”

Another example: Here in a district where the teaching shortage has meant children have gone months without a certified math teacher, people who applied for jobs weren’t getting hired.

“We had teachers, let’s say at the job fair, that had committed to joining the district,” Vitti says. “That teacher leaves the job fair thinking that they’re going to Denby [High School]. The principal thinks the teacher is going to Denby and then no one’s followed up with the teacher.”

The teacher eventually gets an offer from another district and takes that job instead, he says.

The examples go on and on.

The central office took so long to approve expenses that principals had taken to buying things on their own. That led to corruption and to inefficiencies that Vitti’s team is uncovering, like the seven schools that all used the same online learning tool last year.

No one negotiated a multi-school discount so every school paid full price, Vitti said. And the schools weren’t in contact to determine if a different program might have been better.

“We shouldn’t be using anything at just seven schools unless it’s a pilot,” Vitti told members of his cabinet as they gathered for a meeting in his office. “And if we’re going to do pilots, then they should be free and there should be a whole lot of principal buy-in as to why they’re being used.”

The last emergency manager, Steven Rhodes, declined to comment on the substance of Vitti’s criticism, sending a statement saying only that he wishes “Dr. Vitti and the entire staff at DPSCD the very best in meeting the challenges of educating its students.” The governor’s office and State Treasury Department, which appointed and oversaw the emergency managers, did not respond to requests for comment.

Cleaning up systems is essential if Vitti wants to take the district in a different direction, says Robert Peterkin, the Harvard professor who, for 20 years, led the urban superintendents program where Vitti earned his PhD.

“What he’s got to do is establish these basic procedures while educating all the kids,” Peterkin says. “I know that sounds impossible but these systems don’t have to be invented. …Those things are not rocket science. Recruitment of teachers. We know how to do that. We know how to have a contract system. We really do. We just need to have somebody who’s going to go out and get it done.”

But Vitti says the mismanagement infuriates him “because it limits what you can do now.”

“That not only hurt the city, it hurt children and it hurt public education and now we have to make up for the sins of the past while still moving forward and creating results, which is daunting,” he says. “It’s possible, but daunting.”

* * *

If Vitti is daunted privately, he betrays little hint of concern as he travels around the city.

He gives confident speeches and interviews  — typically from the gut, without using talking points or prep materials — that are filled with promises for the kind of wholesale improvement that seems unlikely in a nation where the box scores for urban superintendents show far more losses than wins.

He’s hardly the first superintendent to arrive in a city making grand predictions for the future.

“The idea of the school superintendent as the person who can fix it all is at least as old as the 20th century,” says David Cohen, a professor of educational policy at Harvard University and the University of Michigan.

But superintendents are largely powerless to address things like residential segregation and fiscal inequality that helped destroy urban schools in the first place, Cohen says. “The problems in [urban schools] have been created by decades of government policies …There’s no way that the educational problems in these systems can be solved by any particular superintendent.”

In Detroit, he says, the challenge is even greater. “Detroit just faces huge problems and many of them are not of the district’s making and are not within the district’s control.”

Yet Vitti says he plans to put nearly every waking hour he has into the effort.

He sleeps just three hours most nights, sometimes cranking out emails until 3 a.m. before catching some winks until dawn, he says. Other nights, he’ll go to bed early, around midnight, and wake up at 3 a.m. to respond to emails.

“We have to manage [the district] and transform the district at the same time and that requires a different work ethic and energy level,” he says.

Vitti doesn’t expect his aides or advisors to put in those kinds of hours, but he has little patience for anyone who isn’t moving with as much urgency as he is. He stacked his team with people he trusts to keep up the pace, firing dozens of longtime school officials and technocrats and replacing many with people he knew from his days working in Florida.

“Tick, tick, tick,” he chided an aide when she reported that she hadn’t yet made an important hire.

“I’m working, working, working,” she responded. “I thought I found somebody but they’re not interested.”

Despite his sometimes abrasive tone, Vitti is not outwardly combative. Unlike some superintendents who’ve blazed into districts on a promise to push out bad teachers or to jump start performance by shutting down schools, the words he speaks in Detroit are largely the ones that parents and community leaders want to hear.

He talks of the “whole child,” and finding ways to meet children’s social and emotional needs instead of just drilling them on standardized tests. He talks of “parent engagement” and community partnerships. And he and his wife have enrolled their four children — including two who have special needs — in a district school.

Vitti spent his first months in Detroit on a listening tour, meeting with parents, teachers, students and community leaders to assess the needs of the district.

When teachers complained that students were spending too much time taking tests, he reduced mandatory student testing. He also promised to raise teacher pay.

And he’s paying attention to what students learn, something that he says has been neglected. He’s pushing a district-wide curriculum audit to make sure Detroit kids are getting an education that meets national standards. And he wants a teacher evaluation system, based on research, that supports teachers and helps them hone their craft.

If Vitti is successful, the tone he sets now will be why, said Peterkin, the Harvard professor who helped guide Vitti through his doctorate.

“I don’t think that any modern superintendent can see themselves as a do-it-all, know-it-all, great man theory kind of leader,” Peterkin says. “He needs a team. He certainly needs the school board. He needs community support. He needs to not have anti-public school voices tearing him down. He needs strong parental support and a business community that wakes up and realizes it needs its public schools but I think he can lead that effort.”

* * *

In the three days that this reporter followed Vitti, he zig-zagged around the city, giving speeches, meeting with potential partners, and directing staff on everything from the best way to measure the condition of school facilities to whether or not a PowerPoint presentation for a school board meeting should have photos or bullet points.

He doesn’t take notes in meetings and yet seems to keep countless details about contracts, personnel — even the calorie counts of his favorite snacks — in his head.

And while he’s listening to briefings, he’s also searching around for new ideas.

During a meeting about creating internships for students at a district vocational school, he spotted the school’s slogan — ”where great minds are developed” — and pointed it out to a school board member, Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, who was sitting with him.

Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti typically doesn’t take notes in meetings. Photo: Erin Einhorn

“What do you think about our logo for the district: Where Detroit Minds are Developed?” he asked her. “Or where Detroit Minds Matter? That’s a good one too. We’ve gotta figure that out.”

And as he met with the heads of a prominent local museum, he came up with an idea for an entirely new school.

The museum execs had largely wanted to discuss bringing more students to visit on field trips when they asked to meet with Vitti. He had immediately signed on, mentioning a “cultural passport” he hopes to create that would enable students to visit an opera, a symphony or great works of art in every school year. But he didn’t stop there.

Sitting in an office upstairs from the museum’s exhibit halls, a grander, more ambitious idea seemed to pop into his head.

“What about a deep partnership with a K-8 school?” Vitti asked. “Something similar to a magnet school?”

The museum and district could team up on “deep training for the principal and teachers,” he said.

The school could build on the museum’s exhibits to teach art, history and other subjects.

“Imagine everything our students could experience!” he said.

The museum execs seemed stunned — but delighted — by the proposal.

“We would love that!” one exclaimed.

There are countless logistical and practical details that would have to be worked out before a school like this could be created.

It’s too early to tell whether Vitti has the political skills and financial resources to take any of his ideas beyond the concept phase. The fragile nature of the discussion is why the museum officials asked not to be publicly identified with such a preliminary proposal.

And no matter what he does, Vitti is operating in a tenuous environment. The school board supports him now, but could eventually turn on him. The state has stepped out of Detroit’s school operations, but a new governor could step back in. Those things have happened repeatedly in this city before.

But, in that moment, this idea — and that different future — seemed entirely possible.

“Terrific!” the museum executive said. “This is exactly the kind of work we want to do!”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools. Daily Detroit syndicates their content with permission.

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Here Are The Top 10 Public High Schools With The Best Teachers In Metro Detroit http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/08/25/top-10-public-high-schools-best-teachers-metro-detroit/ http://www.dailydetroit.com/2017/08/25/top-10-public-high-schools-best-teachers-metro-detroit/#respond Fri, 25 Aug 2017 17:44:21 +0000 http://www.dailydetroit.com/?p=38012 The education ratings site Niche.com has come out with their top teachers in Michigan, and many of those schools are in Metro Detroit.

For the purposes of this post, we’re going to call Metro Detroit the tri-county area of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties. The data speaks directly to public schools.

They came to their rankings through a combination of publicly available data as well as reviews by their Niche.com site users.

In order of importance, Niche used the factors of Academics, Parent/Student surveys, teacher absenteeism, teacher salary index (normalized against household income of the district), percentage of teachers in their first or second year, average teacher salary, and student to teacher ratio.

Three of the schools are in Wayne County and the rest are in Oakland County. None of the top 10 are in Macomb County.

10. International Academy

Photo via International Academy Facebook

In Bloomfield Hills, at the International Academy students are required to earn both high school and International Baccalaureate diplomas, which are recognized by many universities worldwide.

9. Athens High School

Troy-based Athens High School has a 16:1 student to teacher ratio.

8. University High School Academy

With a graduation rate of 95%, University High School in Southfield has high marks in many categories and an A- overall. It’s a smaller school with just 430 students – the size of one class of some of their competitors.

7. Troy

With more than 2,000 students, the school – in, you guessed it, the Troy School District – gets an A+ grade overall and an A grade for teachers.

6. Ernest W. Seaholm

Birmingham’s Seaholm High School has among the lowest student to teacher ratios (15:1) and more than 1,300 students.

5. Northville High School

Photo via Wikipedia by Dwight Burdette

Northville High School comes in at number five on this list and number nine statewide. It has a slightly higher student to teacher ratio of 24:1, and according to Niche, more than 2,200 students.

4. Novi High School

An A+ grade school with more than 2,000 students.

3. Grosse Pointe South

Public Domain photo by UMDet.

Both Grosse Pointe high schools made this list with the best teachers. The school was built in 1928, offers a wide variety of programs, and looks like Independence Hall.

2. Wylie E. Groves

The school is located in Beverly Hills but is in the Birmingham Public Schools.

1. Grosse Pointe North

Grosse Pointe North, photo via Grosse Pointe Schools Facebook

The school in Grosse Pointe Woods in Wayne County received an A+ overall grade and have a student to teacher ratio of 17:1.

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