Dr. Nikolai P. Vitti is Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), the nation’s 16th largest school district, serving over 127,000 students through a 1.7 billion dollar budget. He started his tenure in November, 2012 with an ambitious 100 Day plan that included numerous community engagement activities such as town hall meetings and sessions with employees, parents, students, the business community, education non-profits, the faith based community, and the media. He inspired the Jacksonville community to recommit to public education and, with the School Board, used the engagement process to develop a new Strategic Plan that focused on four central goals: 1) Developing great educators and leaders 2) Ensuring equitable and efficient use of resources 3) Engaging parents, caregivers, and the community 4) Developing the whole child
Using the new Strategic Plan as a guidepost, a School Allocation Plan was developed that equally distributed resources across more than 160 schools and completed a reorganization of the District Office shifting resources to schools, including the expansion of music and art programs at each elementary and middle school. The 2013-14 school year also brought about new and innovative programs such as overage centers to assist students who are more than two years out of their age cohort and the GRASP Academy focusing on dyslexic students as well as an expansion to four-year old VPK programs. Reading Coaches were placed in all schools and math coaches were allocated to lower performing schools. Successful legislative lobbying led to a hybrid high school diploma that aligns to the District’s goal of preparing students for college and the workforce. Career Academies, culminating in Advanced Placement, Industry Certification Exams, and Dual Enrollment Courses have been expanded and internship opportunities have been increased. This was made possible through the expansion of the secondary schedule to incorporate eight periods in all middle and high schools to offer additional elective classes to all students. A revamped curriculum and assessment team developed new Curriculum Guides for all courses along with assessments directly aligned to the Guides and tied to the New Florida Standards. This was completed with teachers. A Teacher and Coach Academy were offered to build the bench of future leaders as well as to train teachers on inquiry based instruction rather than teaching to the test. Blended learning was incorporated for students in elementary school as well as secondary students who were below grade level in reading and math. An agreement was made with the Teachers Union implementing Common Planning in all secondary schools which allows for job embedded professional development as well as the opportunity to share best practices. Another major initiative was the creation of the Parent Academy, which offers courses throughout the county to assist parents to advocate for their children academically, become better parents, and build personal and job skills. A successful marketing campaign was developed to rebrand the district and increase enrollment. During the 2013-14 school year, Dr. Vitti also led the district through its first districtwide Accreditation process with exceptional feedback on multiple areas of work, including professional development and strategic planning.
The 2014-15 school year started with the implementation of the Quality Education for All (QEA) initiative. Dr. Vitti worked with the city’s leading educational philanthropists to raise over $40 million dollars to focus on human capital in the district’s historically lowest-performing schools within the Ribault, Raines, and Jackson feeder patterns. The QEA initiatives include a $20,000 performance incentive to retain and recruit the highest performing principals and teachers to the lowest-performing schools; the development of a Teacher Residency Program focusing on developing STEM secondary teachers; continued support for Teach for America; and a leadership development program for future school based administrators through Columbia University in New York.
The new school year also brought two new middle schools. Eugene Butler Middle was converted to the district’s first single gender school and Stillwell Middle School became the district’s first military leadership magnet school. Choice or themes programs were expanded to each school throughout the district leading to 41% percent of students in the district using a choice option. Dramatic expansion in the use of technology has witnessed the acquisition of nearly $80 million in federal bonds to develop the infrastructure for full wireless access in all schools within three years and the deployment of one to one devices.
During his first two years, significant academic strides were made in the areas of college and career readiness, including:
· Infusing a college going culture at all secondary schools through an emphasis on accelerated courses leading to a 4.4 percentage point increase in the graduation rate from 67.7% to 72.1%, a 4.0 percentage point increase in the at-risk graduation rate from 43.62% to 47.53%, an 8 percentage point increase in reading readiness from 72% to 80%, and a 6 percentage point increase in math readiness from 54% to 60%.
· Expanded Accelerated Programs in Advanced Placement (AP) and Dual Enrollment (DE) resulting in the largest single year increase in AP performance in the history of the district and an increase of 41% in DE courses completed including the creation of the first High School through College Direct to Work Pipeline Early College Program and a new partnership with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
· Redesigned and aligned Career and Technical Education including over thirty career academies and increasing the number of students earning Industry Certification by 260% since 2012 from 441 students to 1,586 students
Particular pride is taken with Dr. Vitti’s success in narrowing the achievement gap over the past two years where the district closed the achievement gap among African American students. Among the large 7 districts in Florida, the district now ranks 1st in Math, 3rd in reading, and 3rd in overall graduation rate regarding the achievement gap. The 3.6 percentage point increase in graduation among African American students was 4 times the state average and the highest among the large 7 Florida. The achievement gap was also narrowed for all accelerated components including participation and performance in AP, IB, Dual Enrollment, and College Readiness in Reading and Math.
Since starting his tenure, Dr. Vitti has been named Superintendent of the Year for Arts Education by the Florida Arts Educators Association. The district earned first place for its website among large districts in Florida, and the Budget and Financial Office was awarded the Certificate for Excellence in Financial Reporting, the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting by the Association of School Board Officials International and the Government Finance Officers Association. In addition, the First Coast Worksite Wellness Council and the Mayor’s Council on Fitness and Well-Being awarded the district the First Coast Healthiest Companies Silver Level Award for achievements in employee wellness and the City of Jacksonville awarded the district the 2014 Environmental Green Champions Achievement Award for reducing water and energy consumption, conserving natural resources through recycling, and providing education to improve our environment.
Prior to being named Superintendent of Duval County, Dr. Vitti served on the cabinet of three National Superintendents of the Year. Most recently, he was the Chief Academic Officer of Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) which won the Broad Prize for Excellence in Urban Excellence in 2013. As the Chief Academic Officer, he led the 66 lowest-performing schools in the county while also driving the work of Language Arts/Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, Career and Technical Education, Early Childhood Education/Head Start, School Improvement, Title I, HIPPY, Title II and Summer Programs district-wide for over 320 schools.
Prior to serving at the district’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Vitti was the Assistant Superintendent of the Education Transformation Office (ETO) where he autonomously led a region of 26 schools identified as “persistently lowest-achieving” by the USDOE/FLDOE. Under his leadership, the 26 ETO schools increased in almost all areas of school accountability and all previously identified Intervene Schools (lowest performing category) improved and avoided sanctions. In addition, each of the 10 high schools improved their graduation rate by an average of 12 percentage points and participation and performance in Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment and Industry Certification courses significantly increased through an emphasis on infusing a college-going culture in secondary schools. Under his leadership, ETO was recognized as a model for urban education and turnaround by both the USDOE/FLDOE.
Before returning to Miami to lead ETO, Dr. Vitti served as Deputy Chancellor of Schools Improvement and Student Achievement at the FLDOE as well as Bureau Chief of School Improvement/Executive Director for Region One/Lead Director for DA. In these roles, he led statewide professional development for superintendents, district administrators, principals, and teachers on school improvement initiatives. He also guided the work of five regional offices that directly served the state’s lowest performing schools and their districts. He managed the Bureaus of School Improvement, Federal Education Programs, Family and Community Outreach, Federal Programs, Early Learning, Just Read Florida!, and Equal Educational Opportunities.
Before joining the FLDOE, Dr. Vitti served as principal of Homestead Middle in M-DCPS, where he moved the school from a “D” to a high “B” and improved the school in each accountability area. Before his appointment as principal, Dr. Vitti joined the cabinet of M-DCPS as the Knowledge Management Officer, where he was responsible for coordinating multiple district-wide initiatives. Prior to working in Miami, Dr. Vitti played an instrumental role in transforming the educational culture of a 4,000 student high school in the Bronx, New York. Dr. Vitti began his educational career as a teacher at both the high school and middle school level in North Carolina and New York where he notably raised student achievement at each school.
Dr. Vitti received the prestigious Presidential Scholarship from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and was a member of the Urban Superintendent Program, which has developed a number of successful superintendents throughout the country. In 2012, he completed his doctorate from Harvard in Education, Administration, Planning and Social Policy. He received his masters in the same field from Harvard. Dr. Vitti also holds a Masters in Education from Wake Forest University where he was awarded a Master Teacher Fellowship, and a B.A. in History. As an undergraduate, he earned Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa recognition. Dr. Vitti is married with four school-age children who all attend public schools.