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Baltimore school board debates summer school cuts

A proposal to eliminate the city's only summer enrichment program for advanced students is stirring debate among school board members.

The school system is planning to offer three main programs this year: a mandated extended school year option for students with disabilities, a program to allow middle school students who need to make up work to be promoted to the next grade, and a similar program for high school students.

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But schools CEO Gregory Thornton has proposed eliminating an advanced placement program, an elementary school reading program and a middle school career and technology program.

If approved by the school board, the plan would reverse the movement in recent years to expand the district's summer school offerings — a major initiative under former CEO Andrés Alonso that was supported by federal stimulus funds that have since run out.

District officials cast the proposal as part of a larger effort to eliminate programs that are not producing results, and to partner with community organizations to help increase access and attendance among students.

Thornton said the district needed to "think in terms of a total overhaul of summer programs," to ones "where kids are excited when they wake up in the morning."

The system plans to spend about $2.5 million less on summer school this year than it did in 2014.

The program cut that has drawn the most concern among board members was Advanced Placement Summer Academy, which cost about $99,000 last year and served 206 students.

School board Commissioner Tina Hike-Hubbard said she worries that the system is backsliding in its effort to invest in programs for achieving students. The board has come under fire over the district's limited options and financial support for programs that target stronger students.

"We don't want to see a decline in our advanced kids," Hike-Hubbard said. "I worry that we're making a statement about who we're not supporting."

The system launched the advancement placement summer program two years ago in an effort to expand summer learning beyond remediation. The district was pushing to increase participation in AP courses and pass rates on exams.

Thornton said he believed high-achieving students would rather have jobs in the summer than continue school. He said he believed that investing in professional development for advanced placement teachers was the most effective way to increase success in the courses.

"I think we're going at it backward," he said.

Officials said the district has made strides in helping students prepare for AP examinations during the school year, such as offering mock exams, and they believe these efforts have a wider effect.

The AP summer program had one of the highest attendance rates of programs last year.

Officials pointed out that advanced students can earn extra credits in the district's high school summer program, though that program usually attracts students who need make up for failed courses and who need help to pass graduation assessments.

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Commissioner Cheryl Casciani noted the plan lacked an option for fourth graders.

"There has to be valid information, in this day and age, about what works for fourth graders," she said.

Also slated for elimination this summer is a five-week enrichment program called Read to Succeed that served around 3,700 elementary school students last year.

The $2.6 million program had low attendance — about 33 percent of students attended the program 75 percent of the time — and yielded limited results.

District officials said they hope that the populations from the program will be served by community-based organizations.

A three-week program called "Middle School Gear Up" that gave students a glimpse into the district's career and technology education offerings would also be cut. It cost about $99,000 last year.

The district is providing $250,000 to nonprofits and other organizations that pick up summer programs. About 7,100 students are also projected to attend programs based in their schools.

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