Get Adobe Flash player

Nikolai Vitti is the Choice for Detroit Superintendent

by Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press, April 22, 2017

In its first major decision, the Detroit Public Schools Community District school board voted tonight to enter into contract negotiations with Nikolai Vitti as the district's first permanent superintendent.

Vitti, 40, is superintendent of the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla. He is a native of Dearborn Heights and a graduate of Divine Child High School.

He was chosen over Derrick R. Coleman, superintendent of the River Rouge School District.

"We had qualities that were unique to both candidates," said board president Iris Taylor. Both demonstrated an ability to turn around struggling schools, she said.

"That's a gut-wrenching element that I think is required," Taylor said in an interview with the Free Press after the vote.

But ultimately, Vitti was the choice among board members, who initially voted 6-1 to enter into negotiations with Vitti. LaMar Lemmons was the sole "no" vote, but changed his vote in order to present a united front as a board.

The board, whose members took office in January, also approved a motion to work with Vitti so he can start as soon as possible in a consultant role, and to create a transition team that would include Alycia Meriweather, the current interim superintendent.

The district's advertisement for the job posted a salary of $250,000, but added that the final salary "for the successful candidate will be commensurate with experience, qualifications and meeting School Board criteria." Vitti is paid $270,000 as a base salary in Florida, according to his application for the job.

Vitti could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

There were jeers from some in the audience during and after the board voted. Community activist Helen Moore yelled out to the board, "You know we're black?" Vitti is the son of Italian immigrants. About 82% of the district's nearly 46,000 students are African American.

And, a legal challenge was threatened by Robert Davis, an activist who frequently challenges public bodies.

Davis earlier this year filed a lawsuit against the board alleging it has violated state open meetings rules during the search process. He said he expects the entire process to be deemed invalid. He said an attorney for the district told the judge assigned to his lawsuit that the board didn't intend to make a hiring decision for a while.

He said he would file a legal challenge Wednesday asking the judge to halt the board "from proceeding forward with negotiating this contract."

Taylor said she couldn't comment on what Davis said because of the existing legal action. But she said it's the board's understanding that it has done everything according to the rules.

Many in the community, including some teachers and parents, have criticized the board for moving quickly in selecting a superintendent, and for not considering Meriweather as a finalists for the job.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers issued a statement Tuesday night following the vote.

"Last month, we respectfully requested that the board grant Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather a formal interview," the statement reads. "That didn't happen, unfortunately. We believe that Meriweather, the first DPSCD superintendent with Detroit classroom experience since Dr. Eddie Green nearly 20 years ago, has provided much-needed stability after an often-volatile period in recent school district history. It is our hope that Meriweather remain an important member of the new superintendent’s executive team. Dr. Vitti should work side by side with Meriweather as Assistant Superintendent.

"With that said, we look forward to working with Dr. Vitti."

Read more at: