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Districts Expanding Summer Programs

They're investing thousands on textbooks, software and extra staff and giving priority to failing students in response to the state's new ban on social promotion.

May 31, 2000|RENEE MOILANEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For the last year, Susan Lokietz has watched her 9-year-old daughter, Danielle, lag behind classmates, slipping just below the district's benchmark for average competency and bordering dangerously close to repeating the third grade.

The private tutoring, parent-teacher conferences and school-sponsored help sessions have failed to bring Danielle's reading skills to grade level. If she can't catch up to classmates by August, the third-grader from Cielo Vista Elementary School in Rancho Santa Margarita could be held back under the state's new ban on social promotion.

Her last chance: summer school.

For Danielle and thousands like her across the county, summer classes may be a last-ditch effort to improve academic performance before districts decide who should repeat a grade.

Anticipating that these students will seize the opportunity, school districts are bracing for dramatic enrollment jumps with plans to expand summer school and give priority to students likely to be held back.

Some districts will more than double the number of students, teaching staff and locations this summer compared with last. Many have invested thousands of dollars in textbooks and software programs that emphasize reading and math skills, and some have planned seminars to train teachers how to assess struggling students.

Lokietz hopes the four weeks of extra class time offered by the Saddleback Valley Unified School District will be enough to nudge Danielle's reading scores up before fall.

"I told her, 'If you don't do well, you're going to be the biggest . . . third-grader there is,' " she said.

But, she added, some students clearly need help. "These kids that can't read are just struggling and are going to be left behind."

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Trying to attract more students like Danielle, Saddleback Valley Unified has planned the most dramatic summer school expansion in recent years, said Supt. Peter A. Hartman. The district plans for 500 more students, an increased teaching staff, class locations at nearly half of its schools and a new policy that guarantees failing students a spot in the traditionally competitive summer program.

The social promotion ban requires school districts to identify students falling below grade level. Most school districts spent this year targeting those students with after-school tutoring, homework help and Saturday classes aimed at raising academic performance.

Summer school is a further extension of this long-term commitment to bringing all students to grade level.

"We'll try to provide a seamless transition from the intervention program during the school year to the summer program," said Alan Trudell, spokesman for Garden Grove Unified School District. "The goal is intervention before retention."

Garden Grove Unified, one of the county's largest districts, will more than double its summer school enrollment this year to 12,200--roughly one-quarter of the district's population. Seventh- and eighth-grade programs will soar by 214%.

Even tiny Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach hopes to boost its summer enrollment by more than half and, like most school districts, add class locations to make programs more convenient for parents.

Last year, Jackie Wood did not send her 10th-grade son to summer school, even though he "probably should have gone," she said, because the nearby Mission Viejo High School did not offer classes.

"They only offered summer school at certain locations, and neither one was close to our house. So it became 'How's he going to get there every day? How's he going to get home every day?' " she said.

This summer, it's a different story. Saddleback Valley Unified plans to quintuple its locations and include three of its five high schools rather than only two.

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With summer classes reaching nearly everywhere, failing students will have few excuses to skip the extra help, district officials say.

In addition, these students will get priority for the summer spots. Although caps on summer school funding often force districts to turn away applicants, students who may be held back will be guaranteed enrollment.

On the other hand, children who use summer school to get ahead or reinforce knowledge may be squeezed out by more needy students. And for parents with children just barely making the grade, this raises serious concern.

Kris Thorfinnson's third-grade daughter has wrestled with math throughout the year. The family had planned to use summer school to give her a head start before fall.

"She's not an A student, but she's not a bad student," she said. "But I'd like to see her better herself. If we don't make sure she reinforces what she's learned over the summer, she'll enter the fourth grade struggling, and I don't want to see that happen.

"In my opinion, I think that everyone who wants to send their kids to summer school should be able to."

Shifting the summer emphasis from enrichment to basic skills is the only way to ensure that poor students get the help they need, said Louise Glenning, Ocean View summer school coordinator. Ocean View has spent about $50,000 on new textbooks and software emphasizing reading and math for this year's summer program.

The added expenses, preparation and work will be worth it, districts say, if below-average students can catch up to classmates and score well on the standardized tests used to gauge their progress.

"I'm really anxious to see what her test scores are like," Lokietz said of her daughter Danielle. "If she gets great scores, we'll be so happy."

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