City Summer School Enrollment Turns Out Much Lower Than Officials Had Warned
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 • 11:30am
PATERSON, NJ – About 2,100 Paterson elementary school children are being sent to summer school this year, far fewer than the numbers city education officials talked about when they announced in April that they were discontinuing the practice of social promotion.
Back then, state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans said as many as 8,000 Paterson students were at academic levels that put them in danger of getting summer school notices. That would have represented a four-fold increase in summer school enrollment.
Moreover, Evans had said that summer school would no longer be the free ride that it has been in Paterson in the past. For a change, students would have to show academic improvement in order to get promoted to the next grade.
For many years, Paterson’s unofficial policy had been to promote students for social reasons whether they learned the requisite subject matter or not. That practice resulted in many city students falling far behind academic standards because they were allowed to advance to the next grade year after year without learning, officials said.
So amidst this social promotion crackdown why did the district end up sending out roughly the same number of summer school notices as it had last year?
Officials say that part of the reason was that many students achieved significant gains in their test scores between January and June once they were warned that summer school would be waiting for them. Also, officials said, the original numbers included students in special education programs or with limited English proficiency. Now, separate summer classes are being provided to those students, but for the most part they are not part of the retention program.
“It’s a little embarrassing,’’ School Board President Christopher Irving said of the wide gap between the original projections for summer school enrollment and the final figure. “The district should have done a better job on the numbers.’’
Paterson Schools Commissioner Jonathan Hodges said the district decided to allow students who were below grade level to avoid summer school if they showed progress in raising their scorches. If every Paterson child performing below grade level were sent to summer school, “the number would have been more substantial,’’ Hodges said.
“I don’t think he’s moving as drastically as he could have,’’ Hodges said of Evans. “But it’s still our goal to make it clear that students still have to deliver a full year’s worth of performance to graduate.’’
Some education insiders said Paterson Public Schools did not have the resources, including money to pay enough teachers, for summer school for 8,000 students.
“I think this is as many kids as the district could handle’’ in summer school, said Irene Sterling, president of the Paterson Education Foundation, an advocacy group.
Despite the smaller-than-projected enrollment in summer school, district officials said they remained committed to ending the practice of social promotion. Next year, the district’s expectations for improvement by students will be higher than they were this year, said spokeswoman Terry Corallo.
“We’re getting the mindset ready,’’ said Corallo. “Next year, there will be more stringent requirements.’’
School board member Errol Kerr said he believed the district would stick to its guns on ending social promotion, partly because the state education department is pushing for it.
Last week, the district distributed summer school notices to 2,109 students in grades 3-8, saying they would have to enroll in a mandatory summer program, according to Corallo.
There will be 15 summer school locations, with the sessions running from 8 am until 12:30 pm, Monday through Friday, from July 9 through August 3, officials said. Part of that time will be for breakfast, at 8 am, and lunch, at noon.
In the past, children moved on to the next grade by simply showing up for summer school and not causing trouble, officials said. “The farthest thing from anyone’s mind was academic development,’’ said Kerr. “That mindset has to change.’’
District officials assert that summer school no longer will be a free pass.
Advocacy groups are taking a wait-and-see approach. “We’ll know better in September how it went,’’ said Sterling.