COLUMBIA — Teachers and administrators at Columbia Public Schools have taken back the reins to rebuild and manage the Summer Sunsation program for K-12 students in the district.
Columbia Public Schools has decided to internally oversee the summer school program this year after previously contracting with EdisonLearning.
Columbia Board of Education President Jan Mees said the decision was made for a combination of reasons. After the initial work for the switch is completed, there will be less of a financial burden to host summer school, she said, though cutting costs was not a deciding factor.
"The purpose is not to make money but to provide an education," Mees said.
In addition to financial benefits, there has been more local input and control over the curriculum, said Mary Humlicek, summer school director for Columbia Public Schools. She said staff throughout the district have been working hard with the focus of successfully making the switch to hosting summer school independently.
Humlicek said she hopes that students and parents will only see the changes in the curriculum offered and will not notice many differences in the way the program as a whole is run.
Even without the oversight of EdisonLearning, administrators are confident in the summer school program the district has built.
“Our curriculum is pretty good," Cedar Ridge Elementary Principal Angie Beutenmiller said. "There is lots of consistency with what we’ve done in the past.”
Enrollment lower this year
The overall enrollment for school this summer is 7,100 students, which is 700 fewer students than last year's enrollment.
Humlicek and Mees both said the decrease in enrollment could be because of the elimination of an incentive program that EdisonLearning offered. Students who had perfect or near perfect attendance at summer school were awarded $100 gift cards.
"It was a great incentive but not what school districts need to be doing, Mees said.
There was also some hesitation for parents to enroll their students while the state was making decisions on funding summer programs, Humlicek said.
The district didn't advertise summer school heavily this year because of uncertainty about state funding, according to a previous Missourian report.
Alex Dadant, a language arts teacher at Gentry Middle School, has been teaching for 27 years and has participated in summer school throughout his career. Dadant said he thinks that lower summer school enrollment means a harder start in the fall.
"The extra practice in the summer is good for them," Dadant said. "Kids backslide over the summer, and it can be an issue, especially for those kids who are really being pushed hard, ... and they need to keep working on their skills to keep in touch with them."
Administrators with the district were excited that students enrolled in the summer school program have the opportunity to attend classes at their regular schools where comfort levels are high, Humlicek said. In previous years, there was some shuffling that resulted in many students traveling for the summer session to schools they weren't familiar with.
Seventeen elementary schools, all middle schools and Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools are hosting summer school classes in their own buildings this summer.
Ridgeway Elementary, a limited-enrollment magnet school that focuses on individually guided education, is the only elementary school that is not a part of the district-controlled summer school program. Students that attend Ridgeway during the regular school year take summer school classes at whichever elementary school is closest to them geographically.
Derby Ridge Elementary is hosting the summer school program for its own students as well as those from Parkade Elementary. Parkade is still conducting its own classes with Parkade staff, but it had to move locations because of the asbestos construction that began earlier this month.
"Derby Ridge has been very welcoming, and Parkade has had a 'We can do this' attitude," Humlicek said. "I have nothing but praise for both schools."
More electives offered
As part of the independently built summer school program, new programs and classes are being offered for students in all levels.
"It created more work prior to summer school starting, but we wanted to determine students' path to improvement ourselves," Mees said.
Online classes are being offered at the high school level, and students may complete half-credit classes such as finance and health. Humlicek said the district also has decided to offer ACT preparatory courses.
Another change made possible by the switch has been the addition of custom-designed classes.
Teachers were able to look at what was missing with EdisonLearning's program and write their own curriculum to fill the holes, Beutenmiller said. This kind of freedom has made room for elective courses including language, music, art, nature, fitness, cooking, anthropology and photography.
For Dadant, this is the first summer he has been able to teach a summer class in one of his specialty areas.
"This year is different now that the district is doing it. For the previous two years, another company did it, and I was really at a loss for how they came up with how to place teachers," Dadant said. "This year they put most of us in areas that we are familiar with."
Molly Froidl, who teaches at Gentry Middle School, is able to teach an elective course that gives students the chance to be exposed to a variety of languages before they enter eighth grade.
The language class was cut by the school district from the regular academic year, so now it is only offered in the summer. Students who enroll are able to get a head start on something that they normally would not be able learn until later in their education.
"I love watching kids learn," Froidl said. "I love when the light bulb goes on, and I love making personal connections with the kids and just showing them that adults are trustworthy people. It's just neat, and I really like it."
Missourian reporter Megan Stroup also contributed to this story.