Purdy school district renews summer contract with Edison

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Superintendent indicates pivotal year for contract

Even though the Purdy School Board has renewed its contract with Edison Learning, administrators have made it clear this will be a critical year for the contractor to deliver services, or it may be the last,

The relationship between the school district and the company has lasted a decade. This year's summer school session will begin on Monday, June 2 but run for only four weeks, compared to five in the past.

"We had very intense discussions," said Superintendent Dr. Steven Chancellor, in questioning the arrangement. "I asked 'Are we getting anything in return?' I told Edison we need to see why we should continue with their model."

Most students who do not complete the program drop out in the fifth week. Chancellor said significant behavior changes will come by shortening the session.

"We're doing a good job in creative activities and entertaining students, and it doesn't have much academic value," he said. "We plan for a two-grade dip to start the year. Summer school is not producing knowledge that sticks."

According to Jeff Swadley, elementary principal and director of the district's summer school program, the learning curve dips because students decrease their reading.

"We estimate that most Title I students drop about two grade levels in reading -- as determined by assessments -- from the end of school in May to the beginning of school in August," Chancellor said. "We get them back up in short time, but my point about the academic value highlights that without a more structured and targeted program, we will always have this kind of dip.

"Just because students are reading books doesn't mean they are learning to comprehend what they read," Chancellor continued. "I can read a book on physics, but that doesn't mean I can apply physics to solve everyday problems.

"Students need to be taught how to be effective readers and, more importantly, how to think while reading.

"The summer curriculum is more project-based activities designed around areas of interest. It does not address the upcoming Common Core standards, nor are we teaching core curriculum. We are not hurting students by utilizing Edison. We receive a lot of other benefits from them in terms of student engagement, critical thinking, social development, etc."

In repurposing Purdy's resources, Chancellor said the administration is looking at designing a summer school program that does not purchase its curriculum from a third party.

"I believe we can increase our academic rigor by providing a Purdy-specific summer school in the future," Chancellor said. "My goal is to design a summer school program that directly addresses these dips in learning.

"We are also looking into time options such as a four-day week vs. a five-day week. I think it is very practical to modify our summer school time/duration. Many school districts, especially in metro areas, have already made similar transitions. Some are even exploring extended school years. North Kansas City will offer this at select elementary schools next year."

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reimburses school districts for summer school at half the rate of the normal school session, counting two students as one. According to Chancellor, the district received $554 per student for the 2013 summer school. Enrollment ran around 300 students, generating approximately $162,000 prior to payroll through the formula. Similar enrollment will leave the district with an $18,000 profit next summer.

"We are still negotiating a per-student fee with Edison and anticipate it to be lower than last year," Chancellor said.

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