Duval superintendent selected to head Detroit public schools

Steven Dial spoke to a Duval County School Board member after Dr. Nikolai Vitti was approved by the Detroit school board.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -  Duval County Schools superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti is expected to leave his post to take the same job in his hometown of Detroit. The Detroiot Public Schools Community District's School Board made the decision official at a meeting Tuesday by at 7 - 0 vote.

Vitti was one of three finalists competing to become superintendent in Detroit, a district with 46,000 students. Duval County Public Schools currently has 128,000 students.

Vitti, who has been the DCPS superintendent since 2012, explained in a statement that he applied for the position partly because he was born and raised in Detroit and has family there, but also because he was intrigued by the challenges up against the district.

“Detroit is and will always be in my DNA," Vitti said. "I feel a sense of responsibility to explore the opportunity to determine if there is a match between the newly elected school board and me."

Detroit’s school district has struggled financially and academically over the decades. Enrollment plunged from a high of 224,000 in the 1970s to about 47,000 students in 2016. Funding has followed suit. Charter schools in Detroit also have a higher enrollment compared to district schools.

Locally, board members credit Vitti for bringing the arts back to schools and improving school choices for parents. They also credit him for raising graduation rates, closing some achievement gaps and revamping schools with GRASP Academy for students with dyslexia.

Even so, when news broke about Vitti searching for another job, some Jacksonville community leaders, like the University of North Florida's president, John Delaney, said he wasn't surprised. He referred to an incident that happened last September where school board president Ashley Smith Jaurez, called for Vitti's resignation. Around this time, board members were also split on Vitti's performance for DCPS.

Months later, then board member Constance Hall sent out text messages containing insults about Vitti, which were publicized. Vitti threatened to sue over a hostile work environment, but later changed his mind.

Vitti said in his statement that he has been "recruited" by districts and search firms over the past four years, but this was the first time he agreed to apply.

The Duval County School Board will meet Wednesday at 11 a.m. in a special meeting where Vitti's departure and plans for his replacement will be discussed.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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