New Detroit Superintendent: “Pressure Is Even Higher Because I’m Not African American”

“I deal with race every day… It brings forth a great deal of responsibility and pressure that I embrace.”

Laura Weber Davis/WDET

All the hype about Detroit’s turnaround could turn out to be meaningless. That’s if the city doesn’t become a place families want to live long-term. And it won’t become that place without better public schools.

That’s not just according to naysayers who want to downplay Detroit’s successes at every turn. That’s what Gov. Rick Snyder said during and after the city’s bankruptcy as the state prepared to pass a rescue plan for Detroit Public Schools. Because of that legislation, Detroit now has a new public schools system — the Detroit Public Schools Community District — which is free of debt. The hope was that a financial clean slate could create better results for kids in the classroom.

With a new school district comes a new superintendent. Nikolai Vitti is the guy whose shoulders all of that weight rests upon now.

Vitti joins Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson to talk about those expectations and how they relate to the fact that he’s a white man leading a majority-African American school district. It was an issue Detroit Today addressed shortly after Detroit’s school board decided to hire Vitti.

“I deal with race every day,” says Vitti. “And I’m comfortable dealing with race and talking about race. And I don’t think you can be effective — or I won’t be effective — if you can’t talk through race and feel comfortable doing that.”

Vitti explains that these subjects affect him both on a professional and personal level. He’s married to an African American woman and has mixed-race children who identify as African American. But he acknowledges that his own skin color will affect how he’s perceived as the head of DPSCD.

“It brings forth a great deal of responsibility and pressure that I embrace,” he continues. “The expectations are even higher for me, the pressure is even higher, because I’m not African American. And I embrace that and I celebrate that.”

Vitti also addresses teacher salaries. He says that’s one of his first priorities as superintendent.

“People deserve a raise,” he says. “I’ve continued to advocate for it… and try to make sure it gets done,” he says.

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


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    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.