Detroit Public Schools Community District Restores Art Programming at Detroit School of Arts and Feeder Schools

In partnership with 24 Detroit-area organizations, DPSCD is investing in the arts – and setting the Detroit School of Arts on a path to becoming the premier performing arts school in the tri-county area.

“Students throughout Metro Detroit deserve an opportunity to attend a traditional public education school that offers the best performing and fine arts, and academic instruction.”    

That’s what Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), wants parents to know when they are choosing a school that combines intensive art and academic instruction for their children. Providing a pathway through the middle school years and high school requires a catalyst that will attract and drive students who are deeply interested in the arts, and possibly as a profession.    

“We want to reestablish our Detroit School of Arts (DSA) as the premier performing and fine arts high school in Detroit. DSA offers outstanding programming, is supported by great partners, and has a successful alumni base who have gone on to successful careers in the arts,” Vitti says. “The next logical step is connecting the middle school student, who may want to go further into developing their artistic talent, to one of four schools that feed into DSA’s programming.”    

This bold initiative is part of DPSCD’s broader vision of recognizing the great arts community and culture in Detroit, reestablishing its powerful legacy in its schools, and providing exceptional education in the arts. And it’s hitting the ground running: The district is partnering with 24 local organizations* to invest both resources and expertise through the Detroit School of Arts (DSA) Pathways Initiative.     

Students enrolled in DSA Pathways will have great options to focus their interests and develop talents in Dance, Instrumental Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Vocal Music and expanded options at DSA in Literary Arts and Multimedia Production.  

Whole child development    

This new initiative is a clear example of DPSCD’s focus on the arts and music as a key element in students’ growth.   

“One of our strategic plan priorities is developing the whole child,” Vitti explains. “When we started the work of rebuilding the district, parents, students, teachers and community groups voiced a common theme – what once made DPS a strong school system was the emphasis on the arts. There’s a long legacy. Generations of DPS alumni have contributed to the history and development of music and art in all of its forms throughout the world. It would be a shame to not offer our children the same opportunity to create and continue this legacy.”    

Public education funding of the arts has been declining across the country for many years. Beginning in the late 20th century, extensive budget cuts and eventual state mandated emergency management severely diminished or entirely eliminated art and music education in Detroit.

“The arts were not emphasized and offered in most schools,” Vitti notes. “It’s a disappointing trend. Research shows there is a direct link between improved student performance when arts and music education is emphasized in schools. It also helps a child’s social emotional skills in and out of the classroom. For our district, we identified this early as a critical rebuilding step, and strengthening our arts strategy supports our commitment to developing the whole child.”  

Dynamic arts partners   

Partnering with the city’s esteemed arts and music organizations and educational institutions is another way the district is fulling its whole child commitment. The DSA Pathways Initiative is currently in Phase I and will be implemented in the 2020-21 school year. And the community partners play an important role.    

Some of the 24 local organizations have previously partnered with DPSCD, but Vitti says they are now concentrating their efforts specifically on DSA and four Middle School Conservatories, also known as feeder-pattern schools to DSA. These schools include Brenda Scott Academy, Duke Ellington Conservatory of Music & Art, John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy, and Spain Elementary-Middle School.    

Students in grades 5-7 at these schools can apply and audition to be placed for grades 6-8. Students at both the Middle School Conservatories and DSA will have an opportunity to work with the 24 partners.   

“One of the key goals is to create a pipeline, a high level of competition and completely fill every seat at DSA. It is an outstanding facility with great teachers,” Vitti says. “Right now, you have to audition to go to DSA, but we want to get to a point where demand doesn’t meet supply. We also need this experience and demand at the middle school level.”    

The district and its partners are concentrating resources and expertise to help these four Middle School Conservatories directly feed into DSA, Vitti says.    

“These partners are providing us with industry professionals who have made the arts their career,” Vitti says. “This opportunity for our students to interact with these professionals, receiving the highest level of instruction from actors, musicians, painters, and dancers, will significantly build our students’ capacity and confidence.”    

Making it accessible    

Access to the arts is integral for DPSCD in every school, Vitti adds. That’s why the district also has funded an art or music teacher in each school to provide adequate access to art and music experiences starting at young ages. As a result of early arts and music education, students on the verge of middle school may want to attend a more focused arts program. Families and students simply want options in an environment where school choice depends on great programming, but they also need support and access especially in a big city.     

In addition to restoring arts and music to all schools in the district, this new initiative will provide an increased amount of options for families. The district is addressing all barriers including transportation to ensure families across the city have access to the new arts and music pathway.   

 “We were intentional about the selection of schools, so we would have one on the east side, for example with Brenda Scott; one more on the west side with J.R. King; and a school centrally located by selecting Spain,” Vitti says. “We intentionally have diversity of geographic placement in order to ensure we have direct equity of access regarding the programs.”  

*Community partners include The Carr Center, College for Creative Studies, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME), Detroit Jazz Festival, Detroit Public Theatre, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Eisenhower Dance Detroit, Heritage Works, InsideOut Literary Arts, Living Arts, Michigan Opera Theatre, Michigan State University, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, The Motown Museum, Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Pewabic Pottery, Shakespeare in Detroit, Sphinx Organization, Stratford Festival, University of Michigan SMTD, University Musical Society (UMS), Wayne State University, Y Arts and The Detroit Creativity Project.    

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