JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Dr. Nikolai Vitti grew up in a working class family in Detroit. He's the son of immigrants - his father Italian, his mother from Argentina, but from third grade on he was raised by a single mom.
"My destiny did not say I would be here. It was education that allowed that pathway and that opportunity," said Vitti. "I saw my mother and my uncles, grandparents just work. They worked for a living, a hard honest life but full of long hours and sometimes little pay but I saw them work with that work ethic."
School for young Nikolai wasn't easy. In high school he was a "C" student. He didn't know until much later on that he had Dyslexia. But his athletic ability, which he still possesses today, landed him a football scholarship to Wake Forest.
"Sports provided the financial opportunity to go to college and then as I said I fell in love with books, and academics and knowledge and ended up being a 4.0 student," Vitti says.
Thanks to teachers encouraging him to read, his love of learning blossomed.
"I don't really talk much about this but I ended up receiving a Presidential Scholarship to go to Harvard and it was a fully funded scholarship to get my doctorate in urban educational leadership,' said Vitti. "But if you had asked people growing up if I would have gone to Harvard on a presidential scholarship they probably would have laughed."
Today he is the father of three boys and a girl who are 4, 6, 8 and 10 years old. They attend school in Duval County.
"For the most part they are proud of me. They see what I try to do on behalf of all children and they always are willing to give me their two cents about everything from the cafeteria food to what books they are reading in class or the amount of homework they have. So it's usually a fun conversation," Vitti said.
He also considers himself father to the 130-thousand students in his district.
Vitti says, "I actually advocate on behalf of all children as if they're my own and I say to principals and teachers that if it's not good enough for your individual child then it's not good enough for any child and I actually say that all the time and believe that."
His advice for students heading back to school is the same advice he gives his own children: work hard.
"You many not know that word you are reading or the answer to that math problem or you may not understand what you are learning in science but be willing to try and to make mistakes and don't define your intelligence by getting an answer right or wrong," Vitti said.
First Coast News