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Springfield greatly expands summer school

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The Republican |

Springfield greatly expands summer school


SPRINGFIELD – The School Committee has voted to substantially expand summer school for students finishing the fifth and eighth grades who fail Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests.
The new program, to run eight hours a day for six weeks, will also be available to struggling second-, third-, and fourth-graders. Students in other grades who need to make up failed academic courses will attend half-day programs for five weeks, as in the past.
“This is a very dramatic expansion of the amount of time we would have the students in front of teachers,” said Superintendent Joseph P. Burke.
The School Committee voted Thursday to hire Dorchester-based national nonprofit Building Educated Leaders for Life, known as BELL, to run the program for roughly 800 children. The district is expected pay $800,000, while BELL, which has access to public funds and private grants, and will arrange another $800,000, said Carole Y. Prest, the nonprofit’s chief strategy officer.
The state-appointed Finance Control Board holds authority over city contracts, and Executive Director Stephen P. Lisauskas said in a statement yesterday the BELL arrangement will be reviewed.
“We will look it as part of the comprehensive school budget … as we do for all city departments with an eye towards balancing fiscal prudence with a desire to improve services,” he stated.
The new program would be mandatory for fifth- and eighth-graders with poor test scores who are struggling academically, Prest said. The district last year began requiring summer school for those students, who are in transition from elementary to middle or middle to high school.
Students who are required to attend summer school but fail to appear risk being held back, Burke said yesterday, although existing School Committee policy prevents principals from holding back sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders more than once.
Sandra Wyner Andrew, principal of the K-8 Alfred G. Zanetti Montessori School, supports the expansion.
“I think it’s wonderful, fantastic … a full day is fabulous,” she said. She said she believes most parents won’t object to longer days and the additional week.
However, Carol Boardway Chapin, vice president of Daniel B. Brunton School Parent-Teacher Organization, said eight hours on a hot summer day could be too much. “It would be a pretty long day,” which for some children might feel like punishment, she said.
She said her daughter, who is doing well in third grade, participates in extracurricular activities over the summer.
A majority of the School Committee has expressed growing impatience with the control board’s presence and called for the return of local authority. The four members present Thursday night, Vice Chairman Kenneth E. Shea, Michael P. Rodgers, Thomas M. Ashe, and Christopher Collins, also took a symbolic vote to extend Superintendent Joseph P. Burke’s contract for three years, although the Control Board is launching a national superintendent search.
Control Board Chairman Christopher F. Gabrieli stated yesterday “we are focused on recruiting a top-flight leader for ._._. the Springfield Public Schools. We have invited the School Committee to take part in the search process and look forward to their participation. Springfield needs leadership willing and able to make tough decisions and ._._. work cooperatively to get results.”
Wyner Andrew, who has taught in South Africa and Australia, said American children have extraordinarily long summer vacations, during which a great deal of “learning loss” occurs. She said expanded summer school really should be available for all Springfield children.
BELL, which arose from a community service project by black and Latino students at Harvard Law School, serves more than 8,000 children in 40 public schools in Boston, New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
“They have an outstanding track record with students and parents,” Burke said.
Prest said the program will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., including breakfast, three hours of literacy and math instruction, lunch, recess, and three hours of enrichment activities, which may include sports, arts, science or technology.
Children will be evaluated through testing at the program’s beginning, middle and end, Prest said.
BELL will hold a job fair in Springfield to recruit teachers, paraprofessionals and college students, Prest said. Certified teachers and paraprofessionals will be paid union rates set by local contracts. College students, who work as BELL teaching assistants, will be paid based on experience and years completed, Prest said.

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