On May 21, Dr. Nikolai Vitti left his position as Duval County Schools superintendent to lead public schools in his hometown of Detroit. 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. During his tenure as superintendent, Vitti has considerably improved the Duval County Public School system.
Let’s take a look at some significant achievements made over the last five years:
Graduation rate, perhaps the most important measurement of success, has grown to 78.8 percent. Duval County is no longer the lowest of Florida’s largest seven urban school districts (often known as the Big 7).
Success with African American Students is impressive. Graduation rates among African American Students are now the highest of Florida’s largest seven urban school districts. And when compared, Duval County has the lowest achievement gap between white and African American students.
Students are on the road to college. College readiness scores in reading and math have significantly improved over the last five years, especially among minority students and students attending Title I schools.
Arts and Music have been returned to schools.
Vitti has ushered in support from within the business community, philanthropists, and the school board to prioritize the highest need schools and students. Millions have been produced for the most challenged schools in the district.
All of this happened despite a number of disputes between Vitti and the elected School Board. Ranging from a call for Vitti’s resignation by School Board Vice-chair Ashley Smith Juarez to text messages containing insults about Vitti by then board member Constance Hall.
In a statement, Vitti said that he has been recruited by districts over the last four years, but this was the first time he agreed to apply. As Vitti moves on to new ventures, he can be proud of many meaningful achievements that will last here in Duval long after he's gone.
With the news that Dr. Vitti has been offered employment in his hometown of Detroit, the Duval County School Board now has to take on one of its most important tasks: finding a new superintendent who is qualified to lead this district.
Here at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, we are encouraging the Duval County School Board to:
Move quickly, but deliberately. This time of transitioning can be destabilizing for teachers , students and families alike. The biggest risk for Duval County Public Schools is for the process to drag out and for the district to lose its current momentum, or even begin to slide backwards.
Build on existing momentum. Whether the board looks internally or externally for the right candidate to succeed Dr. Vitti, it’s important for the next superintendent to carry forward existing programs and policies that are having a positive impact on student achievement.
Commit to making public input a key component. Fully including the community should be a part of this process, to ensure that the public is invested in the new superintendent from day one.
Look for a candidate with a focus on diverse communities and low-performing schools. It is vital that no matter who the next superintendent is, s/he remain commi ed to equity and prioritizing the students with the highest needs.
Be clear, consistent and transparent in communications about decision-making. There will be a lot of decisions made throughout the superintendent selection process, and it is important for the reasoning behind each decision to be communicated clearly and transparently to the public. Without such clear communication, rumors abound and instability increases. The board should consider setting up a dedicated portion of the DCPS website as a repository for these communications and creating a weekly email update to interested community members about the status of the process. Should the board move forward with an external search, it is imperative that the school board employs a highly- regarded search firm to assist with the process.