Schools plan more summer sessions

THE BALTIMORE SUN

City school officials gave a glimpse last night of the programs they plan for this summer: not quite a return to the expensive, systemwide summer school of past years, but an increase over last summer's relatively scant offerings.

If approved by the school board, more than a third of the system's 89,000 students would have the opportunity to take a four- to six-week session this summer.

Children entering elementary, middle or high school would be eligible for "summer bridge" programs focused on orientation and academic support; those attending high-poverty schools would be offered math and language arts instruction and enrichment activities. Summer classes also would be offered to high schoolers and disabled students.

The plan represents a philosophical shift about summer school, which was used largely for remediation and to help students avoid being held back. Instead, summer school will assist students in preparing for the next school year, said Chief Academic Officer Linda Chinnia.

The plan's projected costs are about $3.5 million in operating funds and at least the same amount in federal funds for the special-education and high-poverty programs. Chinnia said she will give the board a more detailed cost estimate and seek its formal approval in coming weeks, so that she may notify parents about summer offerings by the end of February.

Last year, the system spent $500,000 in local funds on summer school as it tried to recover from a crushing $58 million budget deficit. That summer's offerings were criticized by education advocates and a state judge overseeing a lawsuit about the funding of city schools.

The smallness of last year's program stood in stark contrast to previous years, when the system had offered summer school to students in all grade levels, at a cost of more than $11 million in local and federal funds. Education advocates argued that the system's recent gains on state tests were due in part to systemwide summer school.

Yesterday, the board gave Chinnia an informal go-ahead for the plan, which was crafted by a task force made up of administrators, community members and private education providers. The group had looked at research that showed children from low-income families have less access to quality educational programs outside school and tend to lose more academic ground over the summer.

The 33,000 or so children who would be eligible for summer school under the proposal include pupils in grades three, four and five who attend high-poverty schools; children across the city entering grades one, six and nine; and special-education students and high-schoolers.

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