Vitti Provides Update on the Condition of DPSCD Schools

According to Superintendent Nikolai Vitti during his State of the Schools address on Tuesday evening, Detroit Public Schools Community District has made significant progress since its days of emergency management.

In his comprehensive speech, Vitti discussed the improvements DPSCD has made since assuming the top position in 2017. The district has reintroduced Parent–Teacher Associations (PTAs) in every school to encourage greater parental involvement in students’ education. In addition, students’ literacy and math scores on the M-STEP, PSAT, and SAT have improved. Moreover, DPSCD has established a newcomer program for immigrant students at Western International High School.

“Our goal as a superintendent/board team was to reconstruct the district and its functions, and to modernize it in order to bring about change for children,” stated Vitti. “We accomplished this by starting with a well-thought-out plan.”

Vitti also highlighted the district’s efforts to increase teacher salaries, reinvest in art and music classes that were eliminated during emergency management, and develop a facility master plan to renovate and reopen deteriorating school buildings.

The auditorium at Renaissance High School was filled with a select audience of teachers, students, parents, and community members. The district sent out emails to the school community to promote the State of the Schools address, urging recipients to RSVP on Eventbrite. A district spokesperson stated that an edited video of the event will be available at a later date.

Vitti celebrates improved attendance

During his speech, Vitti addressed the issue of chronic absenteeism that DPSCD has faced over the years. In the 2021-22 school year, 77% of students were consistently absent, which coincided with the peak of COVID-19 cases in Michigan. Even prior to the pandemic, students in both Detroit district schools and charter schools had alarmingly high rates of absenteeism.

Vitti acknowledged that students face numerous obstacles to attend school, such as poverty, crime, and health issues like asthma. However, he mentioned that the district is making progress in improving attendance rates.

During the 2022-23 school year, the rate of chronic absenteeism decreased to 68%. Although this represents an improvement compared to the previous year, the percentage is still higher than pre-pandemic levels. Vitti attributed this improvement to the efforts of school attendance agents, counselors, principals, and teachers who engage with students and involve parents in the school community.

One exemplary school in this regard is Pulaski Elementary-Middle School, which witnessed a significant 36.5 percentage point reduction in chronic absenteeism and a 10 percentage point increase in daily attendance.

“In addition to Pulaski, many individuals in this room have encouraged students to attend school even when they feel tired. They have also urged families to make every effort to get their kids to school,” Vitti remarked. “There are people in the audience who have even visited homes in the snow and negative 10-degree weather to ensure the children get to school.”

Students showcase progress in standardized tests

Vitti also emphasized student achievement and the district’s endeavors to ensure students reach grade level proficiency and are prepared for college.

In the English language arts and math M-STEP proficiency results for students in grades 3-7, the percentages improved to 13% and 9.1% respectively for the year 2023, compared to 10.9% and 6.2% in 2022. Similarly, there was improvement in PSAT and SAT scores. For 8th graders, the proficiency percentage in reading and writing on the PSAT rose to 24% and math to 8.6% in 2023, as opposed to the previous year’s figures of 10.9% and 6.2% respectively. High school students taking the SAT also saw increases in reading and writing proficiency to 32.9% and math proficiency to 11.7%. In 2022, those percentages were 26.9% and 8%, respectively.

However, Vitti noted that the district’s objective is for students to surpass single-digit performances on standardized tests.

“While we still have work to do post-pandemic, we have definitely made improvements,” Vitti affirmed. “Looking at our literacy data, you can see that 75% of schools have shown improvement at or above grade level performance in the year following the baseline year.”

District plans to revitalize school facilities

Vitti also addressed the state of school facilities. He referred to a 2018 review that found 50% of school buildings in need of repair and only 7% in good condition.

However, DPSCD intends to enhance the condition of its buildings through a $700 million facility master plan. The plan involves rebuilding, reopening, or demolishing certain schools. Cody High School, Paul Robeson/Malcolm X Academy, Pershing High School, Carstens Academy, and Phoenix, a building that closed in 2016, are among those slated for rebuilding. Meanwhile, schools such as Ann Arbor Trail, Sampson Webber, and Clark would close gradually rather than immediately. Enrollment in these schools would be phased out, reducing one grade level each year until the buildings are empty.

To give the audience a preview of the plan, Vitti shared a rendering of the redesigned Pershing High School.

A rendering of the plan to rebuild Pershing High School in the Detroit school district was shared with the audience at a state of the schools event Wednesday. (Courtesy Detroit Public Schools Community District)

“While we value our advanced and application schools, we should also invest in our neighborhood high schools,” he urged. “By constructing new Pershing and Cody High Schools, we believe it will retain residents in the city and the public school system, preserving the legacy of previous years.”

Tramena O’Neil, a parent outreach coordinator at Southeastern High School, expressed that improvements in student achievement and collaborative efforts between parents, students, and school staff stood out to her during the address.

“DPSCD is a good district, and with continued collaboration, it can become an excellent district,” she stated. “With increased parental involvement, we can reduce incidents in certain schools. In my opinion, Vitti has been doing a commendable job thus far.”

Micah Walker is a reporter for BridgeDetriot, where she covers arts, culture, and education. Contact Micah at.

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