City schools to cut classes for summer

Failing high-schoolers can go to community college

new grade 1-8 program

`Summer Learning Opportunities'

Agency, group programs to offer instruction

April 27, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school system, struggling to balance its budget, will no longer give tens of thousands of students a last chance for promotion, ending its costly summer school sessions. Instead, the financially strapped school system has asked Baltimore City Community College and other community groups, agencies and organizations to help some students catch up over the summer.

The community college will offer make-up coursework for failing high school students -- using the city school system's curriculum -- on three campuses. Community college professors and city school teachers will teach the courses, and the city school system will collect a fee from students for every course taken.

Those students will be eligible for promotion to the next grade, based on their summer performance in class, school officials said.

Pupils in grades one through eight who have failed courses or the grade will be encouraged to attend academic or recreational programs -- called "Summer Learning Opportunities" -- run by nonprofit, religious, community and other groups.

Even if students participate in the summer learning opportunities, they will not earn credits or be able to make up failed coursework.

Some of the programs will be held in schools; others will be held elsewhere.

The proposed initiative is so radically different from the remedial summer programs of recent years that school officials have dropped the term "summer school" altogether.

Last summer, the board asked more than 39,000 students to attend summer school, saying that if the students did not attend they could not move on to the next grade.

The previous summer, almost 25,000 students attended summer school. With the system facing a $58 million deficit, all that has changed.

"We can't do it this summer," said interim Chief Academic Officer Linda Chinnia. "Because of the current [fiscal] situation, we really had to look at different ways in terms of how we were allocating our money. ... We clearly know that there are children who, at the end of the school year, will not be able to move on to the next grade. We are not losing sight of those children. The key is to focus on the 180 days of [regular] school."

School officials said they hope that by participating in the organization-run programs, struggling students will not lose any more ground over the summer months, and will be better prepared to catch up next school year.

"There's a citywide campaign designed to make sure kids have an opportunity for summer learning," said Everene Johnson-Turner, a special assistant to Chinnia. "Our goal is that every boy and girl in Baltimore City will be actively involved in some kind of learning over the summer."

To that end, scores of groups and organizations -- both public and private -- who provide summer programs for city children have been asked by the city school system to sign a pledge, promising to include at least 30 minutes of academic instruction every day.

Unlike the systemwide summer school programs of recent years, school officials have no way of knowing exactly how many students will participate in organization-run programs.

But many groups have signed up to work with particular schools, Johnson-Turner said, which will bring the school system-approved programs with the 30 minutes of reading or math conveniently to students in their neighborhoods.

Staff of organizations that will not be holding summer sessions in school buildings will be trained in ways to best provide math or reading help to elementary and middle school students, officials said.

"We're going to give them a variety of activities and strategies they can use with their children," Johnson-Turner said. "We can't assume that every provider knows how to do this."

The school system also will post a weekly math problem on its Web site and other locations in the hope that students all over the city will get involved in solving it.

"Perhaps a family might solve a problem together," Johnson-Turner said. "Maybe a day care provider might want to work some problems through with children at the day care center."

Another component of the new summer-learning initiative will involve teachers and students at about 35 struggling schools which serve high populations of needy children, said Fred Cusimano, a special assistant to Chinnia.

At those schools, the system will be providing four weeks of reading and writing help for about 2,100 third- and fourth-grade pupils.

Concurrently, teachers at those schools will be assigned mentors and receive intense training so that they'll be better able to teach next school year.

"Interventions begin with quality teaching," Chinnia said. "We're looking at those schools where we most need teachers who are highly qualified."

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