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New School Year, New Era Set to Begin for Public Education in Detroit

Public education in Detroit stands on the precipice of a new era. With a financial fresh start, thanks to a package of bills passed last year by the Michigan Legislature, local school board control restored, and under the leadership of recently hired Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) is arguably in its strongest position in decades.

Hosted by The Skillman Foundation, the “Rebuilding Detroit Schools for Tomorrow’s Opportunities” session brought both panelists and Conference attendees together to discuss how DPSCD can continue its positive momentum into the coming year and beyond.

Key Takeaways:

  • Despite predictions that its policy recommendations would be “dead on arrival,” the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren won major victories, the most important among them being: A debt-free school district, DPSCD, local control of the school board and the return of former state-controlled Education Achievement Authority schools back to DPSCD.
  • These changes have given the school district the opportunity to completely remake itself, and at a crucial time – Detroit is experiencing billions in new investment, but the city and state will never reach their true economic apex without a quality public school system.
  • Despite these significant improvements, education can not be separated from the crushing poverty that many of Detroit’s schoolchildren face at home and in their larger neighborhoods.
  • In order to improve educational outcomes, DPSCD must develop wrap-around support services to address larger, systemic issues.
  • Not unlike school districts across the nation, DPSCD faces a shortage of personnel and a difficulty in attracting new teachers.
  • Aggressive recruiting and competitive salaries will be necessary to contend for future talent.
  • DPSCD’s portfolio of vacant real estate is a great challenge and opportunity. Strategic, creative thinking can bring these buildings back into use either through private redevelopment or new district programming.

Panelists included: Herman Gray, president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan; John Rakolta Jr., chairman and CEO of Walbridge and co-chair of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren; and Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District. The session was moderated by Erin Einhorn, editor of Chalkbeat Detroit.