Mike Grego moves quickly. Less than five months into the job of Pinellas schools superintendent, he has plans to launch a broad-based summer program aimed at improving student academic performance by minimizing learning loss over the summer. The details — from locations to curricula to covering the costs — remain a work in progress. But Grego has injected energy into the nearly 102,000-student district that had stagnated for too long.
Grego expects to send a letter home to parents of roughly 12,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade sometime in March inviting their child to a free, six-week summer enrichment program and strongly encouraging them to enroll.
The plan envisions five hours of instruction a day in a "camp-like" atmosphere. The program will be offered at nearly every middle and high school and about 30 elementary schools. Grego is negotiating with the teachers' union in hope of luring individual teachers to work the program for part or all of the six weeks. He's talking to community partners to provide child care before and after the education portion of the day, for a fee and for families who need it. Grego believes he will be able to absorb the instructional costs by redirecting money from various sources between this fiscal year and next.
Some offerings will be designed to challenge gifted students academically. But the primary focus of this broad effort is aimed at improving the performance of struggling students — and to keep them from falling further behind during the summer. Many researchers believe the lack of formal instruction in the summer contributes significantly to the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups, with low-income children losing up to two months of skills over the summer months, while better-off students continue to make gains.
Already, the district offered summer reading programs to third-graders who couldn't pass the state's FCAT test. But Grego's plan is far more ambitious: inviting children as young as kindergarten to try to help them succeed even earlier in their school career. Why, he logically asks, would you wait until third grade when they are even further behind to intervene?
The summer effort is the second major push from Grego to expand learning opportunities for Pinellas students beyond the traditional, 180-day school year, the first being greater afterschool academic offerings. Both are welcome innovations for a school district that for too long was in denial about slipping performance. Grego has the School Board's support, and he has smartly engaged with nonprofit groups and other organizations as he prepares the summer program. He will need help from teachers, parents and the broader community as he moves forward. The success of this summer enrichment program will depend on a broad commitment from everyone, not just the superintendent and the school board.