Pinellas schools want to add extra tutoring next year
LARGO - While they continue recruiting academically struggling students for their new summer tutoring program, Pinellas County Schools officials are also making plans to offer follow-up help next school year. Superintendent Michael Grego unveiled a new plan Tuesday during a joint meeting with School Board members, County Commissioners and members of the Juvenile Welfare Board that would keep students working on their “problem areas” every day after school. The “Promise Time” program will add an extra 60 to 90 minutes to a struggling student’s day for one-on-one tutoring with teachers. Teachers will make sure targeted students, identified by test scores and overall school performance, not only keep up with their required coursework but also explore other interests. Students will be encouraged to join drama clubs, plant gardens, join book studies and listen to guest speakers. “We can no longer afford, socially and academically, to just let these children go wherever,” Grego said. “We’re going to fight like heck to reduce learning regression, especially in impoverished areas, and we need total community support to do it.”Next year, “Promise Time” will be offered at 22 elementary schools and six middle schools that scored C’s or lower on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. At least 80 percent of students at the targeted schools receive free or reduced-price lunches. “It’s no secret that our students’ achievement gap and poverty are the two biggest issues facing our community,” County Commission Chairman Ken Welch said. “I would love to see this program expand, and I love the idea to almost create year-round school, though my fourth-grader probably would disagree with me.” School district officials are still working out the details of the six-week Summer Bridge program, slated to begin June 17, though Grego did offer a few specifics Tuesday. The Summer Bridge program is meant to curb summer learning losses among academically struggling students, particularly low-income and minority children. Students will study math, science, reading and writing four days a week and complete any unfinished coursework preventing them from progressing to the next grade level. So far, the school district is limiting enrollment to underperforming students. The Juvenile Welfare Board has pledged to provide before- and after-care services for Summer Bridge and Promise Time, Grego said. Not only will the agency supply employees and activities to keep the children occupied, it will pay for them as well. Preliminary cost estimates put the cost of providing before- and after-care for just elementary students at about $2.16 million, though exact costs will be unknown until after all the students enroll. The deadline is May 3 for most students, but middle- and high-school students taking end-of-course exams will have to wait until the school year ends in June. So far, about 3,000 of the 5,700 elementary students invited to attend the Summer Bridge have enrolled, though Grego expects that number to increase to 4,000 or 5,000 before the beginning of June. Enrollment remains well below the 12,000 students projected to enroll when the program was announced in February. During the six-week program, 27 of the county’s 74 county elementary schools will be open, along with all but three middle schools and all Pinellas high schools. The school district could open additional schools if more students sign up, Grego said. Funding for the academic portion of the two programs will come from state academic intervention funds, Grego said. School officials don’t know how much the program will cost, school district spokeswoman Melanie Marquez-Parra said.