Even though Evanston temperatures have been flirting with zero and below, the administrative staff at Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools has been hard at work planning the 2014 summer session at the district's schools.
Assistant superintendents Susan Shultz and Ellen Fogelberg shared their thinking with the board at its monthly working session this week and found the board receptive to ideas for making the summer a time for keeping young minds busy enough that they don't regress while temperatures are balmy.
Ideally, they said, summer should be a time for students to explore new ideas and to follow their interests in a low-pressure environment, but budget restraints keep that from happening.
Instead, they plan to continue their partnership with the McGaw YMCA and its Young Readers program, designed to reduce summer learning loss in the critical early grades by extending that experience to rising second graders from Dawes while maintaining the program at Oakton and Washington schools.
In addition, they would like to provide a similar experience to rising third grade students from across the district and to continue serving pre-kindergarten students entering the school system in the fall.
Rice and Park schools would continue their summer program as in the past. The summer school program would be six weeks long, beginning on June 16 and ending July 24.
Last year, the program served 860 students at a cost of $579,000, while the recommendation for 2014 would serve 670 students at an estimated cost of $317,000.
The change, they said, "will allow the district to reallocate funds to address the challenges of the joint literacy goal, the full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, the implementation of the new assessment system, and the instructional changes needed for the implementation of a new edition of Everyday Math."
The cost savings, they recommended, could be reallocated to provide additional instructional coaches for the 2014-2015 school year. That extra $262,000, they contend, could be used to hire replacement teachers so that some of the existing teachers can serve as instructional coaches for the year.
"Specifically," they said, "the addition of two literacy coaches at the elementary level and two math coaches, one at the elementary and one at the middle level, will help address our instructional needs across the district."
Board member Claudia Garrison, a former middle school teacher, said she was excited about the program last summer, whereby the district provided academic enrichment while the YMCA and the Youth Organizations Umbrella provided experiences the students might not have otherwise.
"So instead of being an empty desert of nothing," she said, the summer program "would suddenly become enriched. I was really excited about that."
Richard Rykhus, the board's vice president and chair of its Finance Committee, said he would like to see what an optional plan would look like.
"If you have ideas for summer learning that would be more effective," he said, "I'd like to hear that."
Schultz said the summer learning team thought about proposing a full-day program for third, fourth, and fifth-grade students, "but the cost was unbelievable."
While no votes are taken at a working board meeting on discussion items, it was apparent that board members have been hearing from parents where both the mother and father are at work all day and they have difficulty finding meaningful activities for their young children that are not prohibitively expensive.