LARGO — Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego can't force kids to go to school year-round. But, little by little, he's finding ways to lengthen the school day and the school year.
He's rolled out a new summer program, adding six weeks of classes for struggling students. So far, about 3,000 students have signed up for Summer Bridge. And next year, 28 schools will offer an extra 60 to 90 minutes of instruction in reading, math and science each day. The program, dubbed "Promise Time," will start in high-poverty schools with a grade of C or below — effectively adding one day of school per week.
Grego hasn't provided many details about the cost of the programs, which depends somewhat on enrollment figures. But on Tuesday, at a special joint meeting of the School Board, County Commission and Juvenile Welfare Board, he said that extra instruction will help tackle two of the school district's major challenges: the effects of poverty and the achievement gap between white and black students.
"This certainly puts a major divot in that achievement gap," he said.
The three boards met at the Stavros Institute to discuss major problems in Pinellas County, such as early childhood education, homelessness and health care. Grego gave short updates about summer classes and extended-day programs.
Both programs will rely on Pinellas teachers. Those in Summer Bridge will earn their regular rate of pay, minus the supplement they receive during the regular school year from a voter-approved property tax. It's not clear yet how teachers in Promise Time will be paid.
Grego told board members that many of the students targeted for Summer Bridge and Promise Time would otherwise spend after-school hours in child care facilities. He'd rather see them in school.
To make it easier on working parents, Grego is working with community organizations such as the R'Club to provide child care until 6 p.m. at Promise Time schools. He said students will receive academic instruction and recreation time, and learn "soft skills" such as manners and character building.
Promise Time will be offered at 22 elementary schools and six middle schools.
Although dollar figures for both programs haven't been revealed, one estimate that came out Tuesday suggests Summer Bridge could be more expensive than anticipated. When Grego announced the initiative in February, he said he planned to target 12,000 students for the program with a price tag of $1.5 million to $2 million. That estimate was based, in part, on paying teachers a flat fee, rather than their regular rate of pay.
On Tuesday, district documents gave a $2.2 million price tag for just the elementary students in Summer Bridge. Two options were outlined with that price — operating 20 sites with 3,652 students or 27 sites with 3,082 students. Cost figures weren't provided for middle or high school programs.
Grego said school officials will know more about enrollment in those programs when the results come in for end-of-course exams and the FCAT.
Registration for Summer Bridge closes May 3.
Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.