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Schools to consider expanding summers

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By Todd Martin

After a successful summer school expansion that focused on literacy in first- and third-grade students last year, Shelby County Superintendent James Neihof will ask the Shelby County Board of Education to help fund an even bigger undertaking at Thursday's 7 p.m. meeting at Southside Elementary.

With an eye on the district's “Big Goals,” which focuses on having every incoming middle school student on grade level by 2012 and also on grade level for high school by 2014, the district would like to add fifth, seventh and ninth grades to the list of a more stringent and focused summer-school program.

"This year, with that goal for 2012 right around the corner, we feel like this is something that we need to focus on," Neihof said. "Adding fifth grade to this summer school program will help us reach that goal."

The board has shown a willingness to spend extra money with performance-based education opportunities, including their adding an extra teacher for Southside next year and voting to pay for the extended, more-in-depth summer school program last year.

But with an even more cash-strapped 2011-12 budget up for debate soon, funding could be an issue.

"Last year we asked for one hundred thousand [dollars] to fund the program, but after using leftover money from ESS, Title 1 and other programs, we only used about forty-five thousand [dollars]. This year we're probably going to ask for about a hundred twenty-five thousand dollars, but the total cost of the program could go higher."

Neihof said the district again would exhaust other funds before dipping into the allotment. The program likely would be more than twice as big as the nearly 300 students who qualified for it last year, with about 200 attending.

"Based on the winter MAP scores, we have about 200 seventh- and ninth-graders that would qualify," he said. "But we generally see quite a bit of growth between winter and spring scores, so we predict about 100 from each grade qualifying for the program."

Last year's program focused on primary students, based on the Reading Recovery program and it's Comprehensive Intervention Model, which uses the principles of Reading Recovery in small groups instead of one-on-one work.

The goal was to have the students advance a level during the 4-week summer school program.

"Right now we're trying to use that model to build a program for the seventh- and ninth-grade students as well," Neihof said. "Reading Recovery isn't available or modeled for those students, but we feel like the principles can be adapted to help those students. We're talking to some Reading Recovery folks now who we're hoping can help us with the curriculum."

The reason for choosing seventh and ninth grades, Neihof said, is that those are key transition areas, along with the third and fifth grades.

Adding first grade to that mix helps them identify students immediately that might be struggling.

The addition of seventh grade allows the students the chance to work harder and to be better prepared as they head into high school, and ninth grade might be even more important, Neihof noted.

"If they're not on grade level at the end of ninth grade, that puts the students on the dropout path," he said. "That's where we need to get it under control, so we can keep them in school and get them on track for college and career readiness."

Neihof said the district was very pleased with the progress in elementary school last year, and he believes the summer school program will continue to grow.

"I think, in elementary school, this year will be even better," he said. "We have some things we've learned to do better, and we'll make some changes.

"With the older students, we'll set a baseline that we can learn from, and I think we'll see great improvement from them as well."

Also at the meeting, the board will:

  • Hear a presentation from Southside about receiving a healthy lifestyle grant.
  • Discuss the district's success with the 2010-11 board goals.
  • Consider renewal of insurance bids.
  • Consider approval the amended 2010-11 school calendar based on missed days.