Summer school won't be optional for some kids in this Sacramento district

Voices from the community at McClatchy High forum

The Wednesday night forum included Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar, along with students and parents. Two weeks ago, a student displayed a controversial science project tit
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The Wednesday night forum included Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar, along with students and parents. Two weeks ago, a student displayed a controversial science project tit

If you're a Sacramento city student targeted for summer school, you're going – unless your parents opt out.

Students entering specific grades who are falling behind will automatically be enrolled in summer school by district staff. If they want out of it, their parents will have to sign an opt-out form and explain their decision.

High achievers won’t get a pass. Those students entering seventh and eighth grades at all schools will be automatically signed up for summer school classes designed to prepare them for accelerated high school programs like the Humanities and International Studies Program (HISP) at C.K. McClatchy High School and the Program in American and California Exploration (PACE) at John F. Kennedy High School, among others.

Superintendent Jorge Aguilar hopes this will help diversify the district's high school programs for high achievers, by encouraging students from all middle schools to apply .

"I would argue that this goes to the heart of this pipeline issue," he said. "I felt the need to look very closely at the opportunities that the summer affords us."

The Expanded Learning Summer Program, which Aguilar calls an extension of the school year, begins the Monday after the regular school year ends. It is expected to serve 4,300 students at 24 school sites and will cost the district $3 million.

“We haven’t had a summer program like this in many, many years,” said Alex Barrios, district spokesman. Instead, the district has offered credit recovery courses for a few hundred students and partnered with outside groups to run other summer programs.

The nonprofit programs and the usual summer credit recovery classes will continue to be offered.

Students who are not up to grade level before first, third, seventh and ninth grades will be signed up for the district’s six-week summer program. These grade levels were chosen because they are either transition years, or educational milestones that researchers say can impact a child’s educational future if they aren’t on track.

The primary intention of the summer program is to move students closer to grade level readiness, Aguilar said. “We are trying to be as proactive as possible,” he said, adding that the program could be expanded to more grades in the future if the budget allows.

Information distributed by the district spells out the need for the catch-up program: Fifty percent of all kindergarteners and 80 percent of all 10th-grade students are not performing at grade level, 19 percent of students are not graduating on time, and 2,000 students in the district need credit recovery.

The enrichment program is needed to diversify accelerated programs that have few students of color. District research revealed that 260 out of 3,303 eighth-graders in the district applied to HISP last year. Three hundred forty-nine students who were eligible did not apply; of them, 130 were Asian American, 91 were Latino and 22 were African American.

McClatchy High School was embroiled in controversy in January when a student in its HISP program displayed a science project that questioned whether there were low numbers of students of certain races in the program because they had lower intelligence. After the project came to light, Aguilar announced a review of equity and diversity in elite programs district-wide.

The summer enrichment courses for high achievers will focus on improving students' argumentative writing skills through a social justice-themed unit. They also will spend time on PSAT practice and will be offered information on the district's accelerated high school programs.

"I think anything that is going to get a more diversified pool in these enrichment programs is fantastic." said Emilie Mitchell, whose daughter is in the HISP program. "I want to make sure they are being encouraged to go to these programs and that these programs are a welcoming space."

McClatchy science teacher Libbie Coleman also is enthusiastic about the uncommon approach to signing kids up for the summer program. "Honestly, I think that is all good," she said. "If we really want to change things from where we are – that only those kids whose parents are in the know or have the means get into the programs – this is a positive step. It feels like something that has the potential to make a big difference."

She said she is grateful that the superintendent opted to prepare students for HISP and other high-performing programs, instead of trying to change programs. "There was a fear that was a way it could roll out," she said.

District officials hope the gentle arm-twisting will mean most of the students targeted will attend the summer program. The opt-out form asks parents who want their student to be removed from the program to explain their decision.

Aguilar said parents of students who are eligible for the summer school courses should expect a letter next week telling them that their child has been automatically enrolled in the Sacramento City Unified School District’s Expanded Learning Summer Program.

The letter informs parents that opt-out forms must be returned to their child’s home school by May 11. “Otherwise, we will look forward to seeing your child at <insert school name> at 8 a.m. on June 18,” it reads.

Coleman says the tactic is worth a try. "Often the kids that need something like this the most, their parents are the least comfortable with coming down and signing them up for something."

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