To appreciate the significance of what Nikolai Vitti is saying about parental choice, one must first read his resume. He’s a 36-year-old with a Harvard education doctorate who served as chief academic officer to nationally recognized Miami-Dade school superintendent Alberto Carvalho before being chosen in the fall to run the Duval County school district, the 22nd largest in the nation.
So Vitti is, by anyone’s definition, a comer on the national public education scene.
And he says this: “I support choice because I think parents need options, especially those that do not have the financial means to go to a private school.”
And this: “I just don’t believe that anyone should tell a parent where they should send their child to school. I’m vehemently opposed to limiting options, especially to parents whose children are in lower performing schools or parents who don’t have the financial means to have the same flexibility that a parent would have of means. And that’s historically what’s happened with our public education system.”
These statements, in an enlightening podcast posted to this blog on Monday, are all the more impressive given that the school district he now commands has an uneasy history with private school choice. The pressure on him to continue to wage high-profile war is certainly great. But Vitti comes from a place, and perhaps a generation, where choice is not a dirty word. He openly praises charter operators such as KIPP, even borrowing from some of their practices while in Miami, and asserts that competition is making school districts up their game. In one of his first meetings on the new job, he recommended, and the school board approved, 12 new charter schools.
Vitti, then, is owed more than a pat on the back. He is also trying to break through the political divide to encourage open-minded debate on how to make choice actually work. Toward that end, he brings legitimate concerns to the table and needs to be heard.