Detroit high school students could soon have access to makeup courses, more guidance counselors, and color-coded wristbands signifying their skills, according to ideas that schools chief Nikolai Vitti laid out Monday to boost the district’s graduation rate.
More than three quarters of students in Detroit’s main district graduated on time last year, but the rate was unchanged from 2016, even as the statewide graduation rate rose. And just 12 percent of Detroit students were considered “college-ready,” with more of them dropping out, as well.
That’s not acceptable to Vitti, who told the district school board’s academic committee on Monday that he would be taking steps to create a “college-going culture” in the district. Those steps include updating the district’s data tracking system to more closely follow students’ progress, reducing a counselor shortage by hiring more “college ready” and guidance counselors, and offering classes designed to help students catch up when they are falling behind so they can graduate on time.
“We want all our students to graduate, whether it’s four, five, or six years,” Vitti said. “But we certainly want to create the expectation and culture that they graduate in four years.”
That includes making sure students are prepared for the more difficult work they are likely to encounter in college, Vitti said.
“When children are not college ready, even when they are accepted into college, they often have to take remediation courses, which frustrates them from progressing through college,” Vitti told the committee that considers proposed policies before they reach the full school board.
“It depletes their ambition and inspiration about going to college,” he said, “and it feels like they are going to high school again.”
Vitti’s vision for getting more Detroit students to succeed after high school includes detecting earlier when students are falling behind in high school. He said he wants the board to adopt a new data tracking system for the 2018-19 school year to make that possible.
“We are looking for a more modern information system which will then give counselors, principals, assistant principals, [and] college advisors stronger data and better tools to problem solve regarding what students are behind as far as credits, and who has not passed yet the SAT or the ACT with a college readiness score,” Vitti said.
That data system, he said, would support “early warning tools” so that students who are at risk of not graduating can get mentors as early as ninth grade.
“We can start to intervene and we’re not waiting until their fourth year or senior year, but we’re intervening as early as the ninth grade year or the beginning of the 10th-grade year so we can have more students graduating on time,” he said.
And even in the midst of a statewide counselor shortage, Vitti said he’s inclined to find private funding to open more counselor positions, although he’s concerned about not being able to fill them with qualified, state-certified professionals. With new counselors dedicated to college guidance, guidance counselors can focus on working with students on the day-to-day challenges they may experience, he said.
Boosting Detroit students’ graduation and college-success rates isn’t just a matter of adding new resources and opportunities, he said. It’s also a question of culture — one that he said could be addressed with ideas such as color-coded wristbands students can proudly wear to display they are high achievers in reading and other subjects. The awards would encourage students to become more motivated to succeed, Vitti said.
“We can promote it through celebrations and recognition, and make it competitive around the school,” the superintendent said. “Those are the systems we need to develop here.”