Vitti selected for Detroit superintendent job

Duval County school board member explains what's next for district

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dr. Nikolai Vitti was selected Tuesday evening to be the superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The Detroit school board voted 6-1 for Vitti, the current superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press

Vitti, 40, was one of two finalists for the superintendent position. He and Derrick Coleman, superintendent of a neighboring district to Detroit, were each interviewed in Detroit over the last few weeks and members of the board visited the school districts of both finalists.

Once Vitti formally accepts the offer, the Detroit district will begin contract negotiations with him and will offer him a consultancy contract to begin his transition with the current interim superintendent. Officials said the salary Vitti will make in Detroit won't be released until the negotiation process is finished.

Duval County school board member Scott Shine told News4Jax that if and when Vitti gives notice, the Duval County board will have two options:

  • The board will need to talk about whether to place someone internally in the superintendent position long-term, or to seek a candidate outside of the system.
  • Or, the board will need to look for an interim superintendent, who Shine said he would expect to come from within the organization since there is such a strong leadership team in place currently.
  • Shine also shared why Duval County teachers, students and parents should feel secure, saying most people will not see anything different in the day-to-day operation of the school system. 

    "Another thing we need to do is to send a message to the community -- teachers, our students -- that things are going to continue on just as they did today. They will go on tomorrow with the same high level of service and people don't need to be worried," Shine said. "We are also talking about doing some things with freezing administrative and principal positions so that folks are going to know that we are not going to have a lot of change in the organization as a result of this."

    Duval County school board member Lori Hershey released a statement, saying, "Dr. Vitti has tackled tough issues and led Duval County Schools with a vision for success. Detroit made a wise decision."

    Vitti, who is from Detroit and worked in Miami before taking over the Duval County district -- the 20th largest school district in the country -- told the Detroit school board during his daylong interview that he has experience in large, urban districts.

    The Detroit Community District, which was created last year by the Michigan Legislature, includes all of the students, staff and buildings from the failed Detroit Public School District, which was in financial crisis in 2009 when it was taken over by the state. Since then, more than 100 schools have closed and five emergency managers have run the school district.

    Tuesday night was the first time the selection was discussed at a Detroit school board meeting. A meeting scheduled last week was canceled after an activist filed a motion with the court saying the district didn't provide proper notice of the meeting.

    The board had come under some criticism for not considering the interim superintendent, Alycia Meriweather, who has been praised for building coalitions and support from the teachers' union over the past 13 months.

    Vitti told News4Jax on Monday that he hasn't slacked off his work in Duval County while waiting for the Detroit board to make a decision.

    "Whether it's responding to emails or preparing for the budget conferences with the school board, I'm working still nonstop for Duval County Public Schools," Vitti said. "Obviously, my intentions were rather clear as to why I applied for Detroit. That's my home. When you look at the landscape on a national level where reform is needed, most is Detroit. And I have been doing turnaround work my entire career in various parts of the country."

    The Duval County School Board called Monday for a special meeting to be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss Detroit's decision.

    If Vitti accepts the Detroit job, there will still be plenty of unknowns -- including when he would be expected in Michigan and how much time would he have to help find his replacement in Jacksonville.

    Clay County Superintendent of Schools Addison Davis, who Vitti mentioned to the Duval County Board as a possible replacement if he were to get the Detroit job, told News4Jax last month that he's not necessarily interested in the Duval County job.

    "I'm also flattered that he would believe in me, that I have the ability and skill set to lead the 20th largest school district in the nation," Davis said. "But I am the superintendent in Clay County, and am excited about putting initiatives, projects and targets in place to help improve teaching and learning in Clay."

    A spokesperson for Duval County Public Schools told News4Jax a statement would be provided once it's available. 

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