CLEARWATER - Students were allowed to sign up for Pinellas County's expansive new summer school program well into its first week of operation; but even so, no-shows and under-enrollment will force the school district to cut about 10 percent of the program's teachers.
The program started last week, and as of Wednesday, 5,007 academically struggling elementary students had attended Summer Bridge courses - 78 percent of the 6,400 who had registered - and 1,626 middle-schoolers attended classes, about 64 percent of the 2,560 registered. When the school district announced its plans for Summer Bridge in February, the target enrollment was about 10,000 for elementary and middle schools students and 1,700 to 1,900 for high school students - about 10 percent of the county's total student population that had low scores on the FCAT and other tests.
The high school program will begin in the next two weeks, so it remains to be seen how many of them show up for summer classes, said school district spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra.
Even though the first week's attendance among middle and elementary school students was closer to 7,000 than the 9,000 students enrolled in Summer Bridge, Superintendent Michael Grego said he was still "absolutely thrilled" by the turnout.
"Not everyone that signed up is showing up, but you know what? The numbers are continuing to grow, and that was expected," Grego said. "It took every single department, every single school, and I'm hearing great things from principals that teachers and students were engaged right from the very first day. ... But we will have to make some adjustments."
There were about 550 teaching positions filled for Summer Bridge, but because of lower turnout they will be reduced by about 55 jobs, Parra said. About 700 teachers applied for summer positions, and if the target attendance had been met, it would have created 1,250 teaching positions, compared to the 300 teachers usually hired for the summer.
Though the program offers many additional employment opportunities for teachers who often have to work extra jobs in the summer, there were concerns with the timing of the hiring process, said Bruce Proud, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. Even last week, when students were still being accepted into the summer program, Grego said more teachers could be hired, depending on how many students enrolled. Many teachers may have turned down other summer job offers in hopes of landing a teaching position with Summer Bridge, Proud said. Now, some teachers who landed jobs will be losing them.
The free, six-week program is meant to curb summer learning losses among low-income, minority and academically struggling students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Located at nearly every school in the district, the camp enticed parents with free before- and after-care, free breakfast and lunch for students and the promise that students would engage in hands-on science experiments, math-related games and reading activities. High school students will make up incomplete course work and prepare to pass end-of-course examinations needed to graduate.