Detroit starts off the new school year with a focus on minimizing disruptions in learning and a key part of that, the public school district’s leader says, is ensuring students are making it to class.
Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, now in his sixth school year with the district, joined One Detroit contributor and BridgeDetroit Executive Advisor Stephen Henderson for a conversation last week at the district’s new School at Marygrove.
The One Detroit Town Hall covered the district’s ongoing pandemic recovery efforts, plans for $700 million in federal pandemic relief dollars, competition for students from Detroit charter schools and DPSCD’s efforts to increase enrollment and teacher salaries as well as building investments.
The nearly 40-minute talk comes in conjunction with the release of a DPSCD documentary, “We Went to Work, Courage through COVID,” which details the district’s actions to help students and families cope with the pandemic.
Vitti told Henderson that the district is down upwards of 2,000 students after celebrating its highest enrollment in two decades, with 51,000 students when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Compounding the challenge, Vitti said, 80% of students missed 18 or more days of school last year due to numerous factors, including ongoing quarantines associated with surges of the virus.
Despite its setbacks, Vitti stressed, DPSCD has had less learning loss than the entire state of Michigan and city-based charter schools according to last year’s state testing. Part of the success he said was tied to providing face-to-face home visits and resources for families to overcome root causes of chronic absenteeism, including help with evictions and funds to pay utility bills.
“Coming to school matters and it’s directly related to student achievement,” Vitti said, and the district is working to reinforce that for families.
“The average parent needs to know that at the end of this year, we’re going to see improvement in student achievement,” Vitti told Henderson. “We just need parents to do their part by sending their students to school on a day to day basis.”