Detroit week in review

Week in review: Vittis take center stage as they encourage parents to help improve Detroit schools

PHOTO: via Twitter
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and wife Rachel Vitti, seen here at a past event in Florida, spoke at a special education forum in a Detroit church this week.

New Detroit schools chief Nikolai Vitti has been in the spotlight since coming to town. But at a forum in a Detroit church this week, his wife Rachel came first. She gave a moving talk about her frustration in trying to get proper tools, classroom help, and guidance for one of her dyslexic children when her family lived in Florida. Then her husband told parents, teachers, and other community members at the special education forum that he wants parents involved — and invited them to participate more fully with the city’s schools. At another forum this week, Vitti reiterated that engaging parents was one of his top priorities.

Also this week, teachers at a closed Detroit charter school are finally are getting their summer paychecks, thanks to some generous donors. Check out the rest of this week’s education news and then enjoy these last summer days before school starts!

— Julie Topping, editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

IT TAKES A VILLAGE: Vitti, who knows he is in the hot seat, told a forum gathered at a downtown community college that district schools “can be successful again.”  He called parents the key to rebuilding schools. And at a retreat in Ann Arbor, district leaders and board members discussed creating a strategic plan, starting with a series of meetings with Detroiters.

Even as inspiring talks and high-level discussions take place, the district is still short hundreds of teachers as the first day of school approaches. A second teacher hiring fair will be held this week.

Luring teachers into Detroit with discount housing could help rebuild the city’s middle-class, one think tank says. Its survey shows the number of families with children in Detroit has declined by 43 percent since 2000.

One commentator believes Vitti’s support for K-12 schools is an evenhanded approach to quality education.  “I’m for competition,” he said. “And I’m for traditional public education.”

COURT ARGUMENTS: Attorneys representing Detroit students in a literacy lawsuit dispute a local editorial’s claim that the suit requires “turn(ing) the schools over to the courts.”

SWEET PAYDAY: Donors made sure teachers at a recently closed charter school who were told they wouldn’t get paid got their summer paychecks after all.

HONEST RACE TALK: This blogger’s tips on talking to kids about race are useful anytime, not just after recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. And the best discussions happen when teachers are bold, courageous, and honest with kids, one university professor believes.

LABOR DAY ROUNDUP: While more Michigan schools opt to open before Labor Day, schools that have taken advantage of the waiver have struggled to get kids in the door before the holiday.    

A MATTER OF POLICY: The state has updated and submitted its ESSA plan to the U.S. Department of Education, this time with a more nuanced “transparent dashboard” instead of the A-F rankings that Gov. Rick Snyder supports.

TURNAROUND…NOT: A large study on school turnarounds shows they don’t help student learning, and schools with more students of color are more likely to be shut down.

IT’S GAME TIME: A Detroit area utility and the owner of the Detroit Pistons are pledging $1 million each to start a Flint Promise program for high school students to go to college. But to help every kid, they need more donors.  

THE BIG PAYBACK: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Detroit schools after the board of education agreed to pay $28 million to a janitorial company.  

HIGH STAKES: Learn what you need to know as Michigan’s third-grade reading law takes effect. Then find your school’s third-grade reading scores.

STEM, ANYONE? A Michigan State University grant will help researchers design programs that put computers into high school physics classrooms. A new digital learning and competition platform coming to schools in Detroit encourages more students to enter STEM and advanced manufacturing fields.

EXTRA CREDIT: Schools and parents can use this online tool to help navigate back-to-school shopping. This teacher’s school was almost shut down by the state. And the Wayne County Family Aquatic Center will host a back-to-school enrollment fair with the Detroit district from 11-3 Saturday at Chandler Park on the city’s east side. Admission is free.


Detroit week in review

Week in review: Young children in the spotlight

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Evangelina De La Fuente, worries that the Head Start her 3-year-old twin grandsons attend could close or change. "The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well taken cared for. It’s scary to think it could change," she said.

Hundreds of vulnerable Detroit families are bracing for change in the wake of the announcement last week from a prominent social service organization that it can no longer operate Head Start centers. Other social service providers are stepping up take over the 11 Head Starts that have been run by Southwest Solutions but their ability to smoothly pick up the 420 children who are affected and find classroom space for them is uncertain. That’s added stress to lives of families already in crisis.

“The babies are secure and they’re happy and they’re well fed and they’re well cared for. It’s scary to think it could change.”

—  Evangelina De La Fuente, grandmother of twin three-year-olds who attend a Southwest Solutions Head Start

Given the impact that quality early childhood programs can have on preparing children for kindergarten, advocates are calling for a better support system. That’s one of the missions of the new Hope Starts Here initiative, which was rolled out this morning. The coalition of parents, educators and community groups, led by two major foundations, spent the last year assessing the needs of Detroit children before unveiling a ten-year plan for how Detroit can improve the lives of young children.

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

Birth to eight

Students, teachers, learning

In Lansing

Across the state

In other news

Detroit week in review

Detroit week in review: Payrolls and proficiency

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit supertintendent Nikolai Vitti talks with students at Durfee Elementary/Middle School on the first day of school, September 5, 2017.

This week, we used district salaries to see how the central office has changed since Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti started in the spring: It turns out there are fewer people in the central office but more highly paid administrators. We sorted through the data and created several searchable databases. Click on any of them to learn more, including full district payrolls as of June 1 and Oct. 1.

The city district got more bad news when 24 more of its schools were added to the partnership program, which requires them to improve or face possible consequences. Nine other district schools can choose whether to participate in the program, which comes with additional support and resources. (Two city charter schools were also added to the list.)

And just in time to welcome those schools, a new state reform officer was appointed this week to lead the partnership program.

Hope you have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

PARTNERSHIPS: Nobody is scheduled for closing yet, but the state added three school districts and four charter schools statewide to the partnership list this week. Potentially, almost half of Detroit’s district schools could be participants. Statewide, almost forty schools were added. (See the complete list here.) The state also named a superintendent to lead the newly formed partnership office and become the state school reform officer.

GET IT DONE: A columnist writes that impressive economic gains will be hampered by the state’s poor quality of education. While one editorial page writer urges the state to decide on a course of action for improving schools and do it, business leaders say a piecemeal approach won’t work. This columnist thinks what’s needed is political will at the top.

ALL OVER THE BOARD: A state house committee barely approved a proposal to eliminate the state board of education. Two insiders explore the issue. For the proposal to become law, both houses must approve the resolution by a two-thirds majority and then it must be approved by voters in the next general election because it would amend the state constitution.

CHARTER WARS: An editorial in a major newspaper says it’s a myth that charter schools are performing more poorly than city district schools. Another editorial supports allowing all public schools — charter and traditional — to benefit from property tax hikes.

KEEPING TEACHERS: One columnist blames state lawmakers for the teacher shortage. But a recent study shows you can keep teachers longer with bonuses and loan forgiveness. An advocate wants to encourage efforts to recruit more black male teachers.

YOUR INPUT: Fill out this survey to help shape the state’s new school transparency tool.

CAREER BOOSTS: Several districts will share a $1 million grant to boost career counseling. And the governor invested almost $3 million to support career tech education.

VOICES: How this group of Detroit parents was called to action in the state capitol.

POPULATION SHIFT:  At least one suburban district is hiring staff after the number of students who are learning English nearly doubled.

FOR A SONG: This Detroit teacher produces hip-hop videos to teach his students to read.

THE UNEXPECTED: In an unusual twist, the Hamtramck district reclaimed a charter school building.

DISAPPOINTMENT: A high school student in a special education program was denied an academic achievement award.

RESTRAINTS: A lawsuit alleges a Washtenaw County teacher taped shut the mouth of disabled student. District leaders say the parents waited a year to respond.

BOOK REVIEW: A teacher from a Detroit nonprofit wrote a book about his year-long experience teaching poetry to children in Detroit.