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For districts on shaky ground with the state, summer school has added importance

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon said he is optimistic the district will return to provisional accreditation, following a recommendation from the state department of elementary and secondary education board on Nov. 23, 2016.
Kimberly Ney | Riverview Gardens School District

Summer school starts Monday for two of the three school districts in the region working to regain full accreditation from the state: provisionally accredited St. Louis Public Schools and unaccredited Riverview Gardens.

Normandy is finishing up its extended school year and starts summer school June 13.

All three districts say reducing the so-called “summer slide” is their top priority. That’s a reference to a Harvard study that found students with no academic support can drop reading levels by as much as three months.

“It’s almost like throwing away a third of a school year if they don’t receive support,” said David Hardy, deputy superintendent of academics for St. Louis Public Schools. “Nineteen days is a short amount of time, but boy it makes a huge difference in a child’s educational outcomes.”

 Normandy assistant superintendent Candice Carter-Oliver said her district “basically bridged that summer learning gap” after it lost accreditation by extending its regular school year in addition to offering summer school.

All three districts also say they’ve boosted summer school enrollment and changed up the curriculum as they work to improve academic achievement.

“The shift has been more of ‘This is needed because you weren’t successful during the regular school year’ to ‘How can we engage students in a different way based on their interests and provide that rigor and relevance there so they’re successful?',” said Riverview Gardens assistant superintendent Bonita Jamison, adding that her district now has a clear set of goals to accomplish during summer school.

Both St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens have seen improved test scores in the past couple of years. Both Hardy and Jamison said summer school played a role in their higher academic performance.

The Missouri State Board of Education is expected to discuss upgrading Riverview Gardens to provisional accreditation when it meets June 14.

While Normandy showed improvement last year, it remains the lowest scoring district in the state and almost 20 percent below the provisional accreditation range.

Carter-Oliver said the biggest measure of success for the districts’ new summer school curriculum was feedback from parents.

“They appreciate having a day-long experience of both academics and cultural experience around dance, and fun and different games and opportunities of social learning,” Carter-Oliver said, adding that her district’s improved 2015 report card showed that Normandy is “turning the trajectory.”

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.