On Day 6 of his tenure as the superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, Nikolai Vitti made it clear to business leaders at the Mackinac Policy Conference that he wants to see some things change.

Vitti was also quick to temper expectations, saying changes won’t appear in the classroom until the 2018-2019 school year.   This coming year, he said, will be focused building a team and dealing with a system that he called “traumatized” by years of financial distress and a string of emergency managers. Vitti said he will take time over the next few months, and move the district away from years of “reaction” to outside influences toward a pro-active  and thoughtful strategy that encourages ownership toward building a world class system that delivers strong student achievement.

Skillman session on Rebuilding Detroit SchoolsIn a breakfast sponsored by the Skillman Foundation, Vitti followed John Rakolta, who used his remarks to detail the progress that has been made for Detroit’s schools since last year’s Mackinac Conference.   Rakolta said the legislature’s $617 million dollar appropriation to retire the district’s debt was a move that had a greater impact than most people realize.  He also called the absorption of the EAA schools back into the DPSCD as ending a “community irritant” and will bring 5,000 students and $50 million dollars more revenue into the district.   Rakolta also praised the Detroit School Board for its maturity in holding true to its selection process and choosing Vitti as the new superintendent in the face of community pressure to go another way.

Vitti, meanwhile, opened his remarks by praising Alycia Meriweather for providing what he called “admirable” leadership of the district of the past year and for helping to ensure a smooth transition.   Vitti said he considers Meriweather a colleague and expects to work collaboratively with her going forward.

He had less praise for charter schools in Detroit, accusing some of them of “experimentation” that “gambled with the future of Detroit students.”    He called for more “guard rails” – for charter schools within the city so they are forced to focus on outcomes for the students they serve.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the DPSCD has a long way to go to build public confidence with parents and citizens.  He called on the legislature to demand improvement and to ask for demonstration that the structure and systems are in place that will produce student achievement.   To achieve success, however, he said requires a shift in mindset to invest more deeply in children, with the wrap-around services that will address the needs of kids coming from impoverished families.    Vitti stated that Detroit “will not reach its apex” unless people are confident enough in the schools that they are willing to move into the city – and that Michigan will not reach its apex until Detroit succeeds.

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