New DPSCD superintendent prepares for back to school

Posted at 10:12 PM, Aug 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-10 05:16:06-04

The countdown is on to back to school. At the Detroit Public Schools Community District a new superintendent is in charge and facing numerous challenges. 

The district is struggling with enrollment, a literacy crisis, and a massive teacher shortage.

"I would rather go somewhere where I am really needed and where I can feel I can make a difference," said Barbara Case, a science teacher.

"I love what I do and I love the kids that I teach," said Shannan Lockhart, a history teacher. 

They both are struggling with issues caused in part by a teacher shortage. 

Case says she teaches 3 different science classes, an English class (which she is not certified for), and a computer class. 

Despite needing 5 lesson plans every day, often she has no prep hour in which to plan and grade student work.  She instead is substitute teaching in front of other classes. 

She would like to have prep time so she can set up more hands-on experiments in her science classes.

Lockhart says at her school she has seen over-sized classrooms. She believes greater compensation and benefits would attract teachers.

The teacher shortage is one of the biggest concerns parents like Jeff Gisstennar have. Two years ago he brought a group of parents to school district offices because his son had gone months without an English teacher.  He is worried it will happen again.

"Then you are wondering, will they be prepared for the next level?" said Gisstennar.

"We are looking at about 425 vacancies across the district," said Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD Superintendent.

So why is this?

"We are rebuilding a district that has neglected and even disrespected the role of teachers for over a decade," said Vitti.

Superintendent Nicolai Vitti just took on the job of rebuilding the district in May.

From 2009 until last year the district has been under a state of emergency - overseen by state appointed emergency managers.

Leadership constantly changed.  Including Vitti, the district has had 4 leaders in just the last two years. As a result - Vitti says it is in disarray.  

"You are just seeing a lack of systems. You are seeing a lack of processes," he said.

One example- despite the fact there were hundreds of vacancies and kids in classrooms without teachers - Vitti said the human resource department did not have a working recruitment program.

"You can’t just sit there and wait for teachers to come apply at DPSCD. You have to go out and recruit them," he said.

He has hired a new leader of HR in charge of changing that, increased teacher pay, and listen to teachers concerns.

Vitti says he wants parents to know - this year their children will spend less time taking standardized tests.

"Too much of the curriculum is focused on testing, not working with children who are below grade level," said Vitti.

He is teaming up with the public library to bring more books into schools and asking for volunteers to help improve the literacy rate. He is also working to make sure each school this year develops a unique program  to provide learning opportunities that attract new students based on their interests. 

He says damage has been done, but that is the past.

He is committed to staying at DPSCD for at least 5 years to put in place the processes he says he implemented in other districts with success.  He has brought optimism.

He has a message for teachers considering working in his district.

"If  you want to make the greatest impact in the lives of kids, then come to Detroit. because that is where you are needed most."

If you are interested in applying to teach at DPSCD - there will be a teacher fair on August 17.

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