Rumors began circulating Thursday after the state superintendent told reporters that the Detroit district planned to voluntarily shutter “some” of the 24 schools that had been targeted by the state earlier this year for forced closure. The news — broadcast by local papers including one that issued a news alert — set off a panic and fury from parents and even school leaders. Two school board members expressed alarm when contacted by Chalkbeat, saying they’d heard nothing about closures. The matter didn’t die down until several hours later when the district issued a denial.
“You may have read recent news reports that indicated Detroit Public Schools Community District planned to close schools. Currently, the district is only relocating two programs, Durfee and Turning Point Academy, to other buildings for the 2017-18 school year.”
— Detroit Public Schools Community District statement
The episode illustrated just how on edge Detroit is when it comes to its schools — hardly an easy landscape for Vitti to enter. Read on for more about Vitti’s selection, the steep challenges he faces, and the rest of the week’s education news.
Also, we’re continuing to tell the individual stories of Detroit schools including this week’s story from a student who says her charter school promised art classes and college tours — then didn’t deliver. If you have a story to tell about Detroit schools or know someone who does, please let us know.
The new boss
- The school board’s unanimous vote to select Vitti, the superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, came after one member changed his no to a yes to show Vitti that he has the full support of the board.
- The vote drew jeers from a heckler who was angry that the board had chosen a white man to lead the primarily African American school district. “You all know we’re black, right?” she shouted.
- The selection of a white man for the job is bound to concern some parents in a city where most kids are poor and nonwhite, a Bridge Magazine reporter said during a radio broadcast. “There are parents who very understandably want someone in the role who understands the achievement gap,” she said. But she noted that Vitti’s wife his black and so are his four children. “He is like a lot of the parents in Detroit Public Schools in that he has the achievement gap living in his home,” she said.
- The board now plans to negotiate a contract with Vitti — though those talks are on hold until at least Tuesday due to a legal challenge from activist who says the search process violated the law.
- If Vitti formally accept the job, he’ll have a lot of work to do. Among things that Detroiters and educators say should be at the top of his list is addressing the disappointment of the community members who wanted Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather to get the job.
- Once the news broke of Vitti’s selection, school board members in Duval County praised his track record in the Florida district. “I believe he can be very successful in Detroit,” one board member said. “I frankly think success in Detroit will really put him on a national stage. I’m excited about this opportunity for him and his career.”
- A Detroit News columnist called him a “game changer,” adding: “He needs to be. Because it’s now or never” for Detroit schools.
- Vitti beat out River Rouge superintendent Derrick Coleman who called Vitti a “great hire,” adding that he felt “almost a sense of relief” that he didn’t get the job. “It would have been extremely difficult to leave my current position,” he said.
In other Detroit news
- The state superintendent later clarified his panic-creating remarks about Detroit school closings saying the Detroit district may need to close schools in the future “based on their enrollment numbers.” The only changes planned this year, the district says, are at Durfee Elementary-Middle school, which will be moved into nearby Central High School. The Turning Point Academy will be moving to another nearby building.
- A town hall meeting was held Thursday night to give parents a chance to air their concerns about school closures in Detroit.
- A Free Press columnist urged city philanthropic leaders to “drop the mother of all philanthropic bombs on the city’s schools,” but the head of a major local foundation said fixing city schools will take more than cash. “If we knew that money was the solution, we would have done exactly that.”
- The same columnist earlier in the week renewed the call for a citywide education commission that would oversee all Detroit schools. “Who’s minding the entire store, perusing the landscape, making sure that schools — public, private and parochial — are open where families need them and work successfully for all children?” she asked.
- One Detroit student — who says she and her siblings have attended 22 Detroit schools — says her charter school broke promises when it failed to provide art classes and college tours.
- A Detroit charter school is hoping new legislation that got a hearing in Lansing this week will help preserve the school’s diversity. (Read this to learn more about the challenges faced by Detroit charter schools seeking diversity).
- A coalition of Detroit organizations looking to expand early childhood education is inviting Detroiters to find or host a “listening session” this month or next — especially on April 27, Detroit Day of the Young Child — as part of a yearlong planning process to make Detroit a “kid-friendly city” by 2027.
- An Ann Arbor couple is helping to send Detroit high school students to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall.
- A Detroit charter school is spending $6 million on a new addition including space for new classrooms as well as broadcast and performing art studios.
- More than 150 Detroit high school students will gather with teachers next weekend to prepare for Advanced Placement exams.
Across the state
- A national teachers union leader was in the Detroit area this week to launch a campaign called “Building Schools, Not Walls,” just two days before she visited schools in Ohio with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
- The state schools superintendent says partnership agreements that will prevent (or at least postpone) the closure of 38 struggling Michigan schools are “very close” to being signed.
- The Michigan Department of Education has submitted its final plan for complying with the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But it has its critics, including two national education advocates who took issue with the proposal and offered their suggestions for how Michigan can improve school accountability. A Detroit schools advocate urged the state to consider providing parents with a simple way to compare schools such as a single letter grade.
- The superintendent of schools in Oakland County called on the state to reexamine its approach to funding schools.
- A charter school supporter accused a Democratic gubernatorial candidate of a making a “startling attack on Detroiters with racial undertones” for comments she made about wanting to financially punish charter school authorizers that don’t close failing schools.
- The president of a statewide teachers union called efforts by the legislature to send money to private schools an “unlawful attempt to divert public K-12 tax dollars” that “should concern all citizens.”
- The rate of Michigan children living in poverty is up 15 percent since 2008.
- An increase in new, free online prep programs for college entrance exams has renewed discussions about how much families should spend preparing for the tests.
In other news
- Students at three suburban high schools teamed up to win the state’s robotics competition.
- A Detroit charter school student has won a national award for drawing self portraits.
- A suburban school serving children with special needs is expanding its services.
- A suburban student whose mother was murdered almost four years ago has won an Oakland County college scholarship.
- A suburban school has been honored for teaching tolerance.
More from Chalkbeat
- I’m a teacher not an activist. Here’s why I’m joining the March for Science this weekend.
- Counting attendance in school ratings could be smart — or completely misleading.
- Indiana hasn’t really improved the schools it has taken over but now the state could start taking over entire districts.
- If school is a haven for homeless students, what happens over spring break? For these kids, a mini-musical.
- Vote on Colorado education plan erupts into a war of words over which kids benefit.