With nearly two months of school completed in District 91, Forest Park educators and administrators were ready to reflect on their annual summer school program and assess the district’s successes as well as room for future improvements.
At the district’s regular board of education meeting on Oct. 8, first-year Forest Park Middle School Vice Principal Tinisa Huff presented her summer school findings to the school board as her first reporting task in her new administrative role.
Prior to Huff’s presentation, D91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo explained to the board that the district strives to set up its summer school program as an enriching educational experience and not as the stereotypical “punishment” for students. He explained the district started to expand on its program several years back because they were not getting the results out of summer school that teachers and parents wanted.
“Summer school here and anywhere should never be used as a punishment; that is not effective,” Cavallo said. “We wanted to make it a meaningful program for students who really needed intervention.”
A few years back, the district altered its summer school program start from early June to mid-summer to ensure that students would not have a long period of educational regression.
“We pushed summer school toward the middle of summer to give them a bit of a jumpstart so they could get a little bit caught up right before they went back to school,” Cavallo said.
The district also strived to narrow summer school’s focus to a limited number of basic skills, namely reading and math comprehension.
“When you’re trying to cover every subject, you don’t really accomplish everything in a short amount of time,” Cavallo added.
This year’s summer school program was held for five weeks between July 6 and Aug. 6. Overall, the district invited 183 Tier II, Tier III and special education students to attend the program, with roughly 90 students completing the program. The average class size for summer school was 13 students per class, with every class having at least one additional teacher’s aide. Incoming kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students attended sessions from 8 a.m. to noon, and early childhood students attended from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. daily.
When asked by the school board why only about half of the students invited actually attended summer school, Huff said there really is no clear-cut answer.
“Unfortunately, oftentimes the parents send back the invitations late,” she said. “Due to the limited class sizes, keeping them small, at that point we almost don’t have room for students.”
Huff added that during the duration of the program, some students drop off for various reasons, including family vacations, moving out of district or joining other area tutoring programs or summer camps.
For the most part, Huff said students at all grade levels increased their learning scores as evidenced by data collected on students throughout the previous school year from standardized tests as well as classroom information. Most students worked on things from letter-word fluency to reading and math problem comprehension.
“In the primary grades, students are working on multiple skills,” Huff said. “Not every kid was assessed on the same skills.”
Upon the end of the program, Huff summarized teacher feedback, both on what went well and what could be improved.
“A lot of them expressed having some type of dialogue on expectations because each teacher has kind of done their own thing [and] didn’t really have one type of lesson plan,” she said. “Some suggested having a summer school curriculum, which is kind of challenging because you have all these children at different levels and different needs. But it’s something to think about.”
Additionally, Huff reported that possible changes to the program would be including teaching materials in line with the Common Core program and expanding upon the collection of data on students from their previous school year in order to further customize lesson plans.