After ironing out some trouble spots with summer school, the Columbia Public Schools have worked hard to make changes that include a streamlined transportation system, incentives that can be donated to charity and a curriculum that will better parallel the regular academic year.
The district renewed its contract with private summer school provider Newton Learning, and the changes announced at a Board of Education meeting Monday will go into effect on June 13, the first day of summer school. Last year, a record 6,000 were enrolled in the tuition-free program.
The district’s first priority was to address transportation issues, namely when some students did not get bused to the correct school and did not get home until 7:30 p.m.
“Our biggest problem last year was that we have several students who are not attending their home school because of the district’s transfer policy,” said Cheryl Cozette, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “Those students were assigned based on the school that they attended during the school year instead of their home address.”
With the changes this summer, Newton Learning and First Student Inc., the district’s bus service provider, will not bus students to schools other than the designated school for their neighborhood.
“So, if I am a child that lives in the Paxton Keeley attendance area, but I am at Grandma’s at
8 o’clock in the morning and Grandma lives in the Midway Heights area, then I will go to school wherever the Midway Heights kids go,” Cozette said. “However, families are welcome to provide transportation for children to attend nondesignated schools.”
This year’s enrollment form included an area for the pickup address to make sure everything runs smoothly.
“We have been working with Newton Learning,” said Tim Reed, contract manager of First Student Inc. “They provide us with a list of enrolled students, and we put the info into our routing program to figure out a stop, what size bus to use and how long it will take us to do the route. Everything is going to be fine this year.”
Another thing some parents were concerned with was Newton Learning giving students daily incentives such as pencil boxes for good attitude and effort, Cozette said. The largest incentive — given to students with perfect attendance — is a $100 Visa card that can be used as cash at any store that accepts Visa.
This year, the School Board decided to allow parents to choose whether to donate the attendance incentives to the Ronald McDonald House charity.
“There were some parents who didn’t feel like it was appropriate for students to be rewarded for something that was to be expected,” Cozette said.
Summer school’s curriculum will also change to better align with the traditional school year. Cozette said the structure of language arts classes will have more literature for students to read and more variety in the levels of reading materials.
“We believe that the curriculum is going to be richer and more robust than it was last summer and will complement what we do during the school year,” Cozette said. “We believe it did that last summer as well, but that (this year), it will be a better complement.”