Supercharge Summer School
9% of our annual revenue is generated by summer school. 3 months of extra school attendance by 73% of our population generates almost 1/10th of our budget (we're small, so that's 550 out of 750 kids). 6 years ago, we were generating half of that and paying all of the profit to an education company to run it. I went to the board and said, "Look, I can save you that $118,000 and I can do it better." How?
Because I've taught summer school since before my first teaching contract and I KNOW summer school can be different and fun. I pumped kids up about summer school for months leading up and then I delivered when my classes filled beyond capacity. As a principal, I had the same philosophy. We hyped summer school as different, exciting, unbelieveable, and then we delivered. Now, as superintendent, I pumped teachers up about what summer school could be, they went and worked kids into a frenzy...and then they delivered. And we continue to deliver year after year as enrollments continue to grow.
We are now up to 11 additional weeks of voluntary summer education mixed with credit recovery, driver's education, and tutoring opportunities. Staff get in line hoping for a teaching spot. Everyone has fun...or they won't come. That's the expectation and it's a culture that now has a life of its own.
Summer school is all about PR. Here's our recipe:
*Pay staff very, very well
*Work using low-income needs like character education, engagement, academic vocabulary
*Feed them: Breakfast, lunch, and snack. And don't do the regular year lunch menu. Try sliders, hot wings, baked potato bar, popcorn shrimp...give kids something to talk about
*Provide "sneaky" educational opportunities: rent the city pool regularly; turn skill development into games; get out of school/out of town/even out of state and learn in the field; stop everything and chase squirrels when kids have questions
*Give parents reason to send their kids. We run from 7:30 a.m. starting with breakfast and dismiss kids at 4:30 p.m. Plus we only attend 4 days a week so families can still fit in long weekend excursions
*3 strikes and you're out. Summer school is a privilege, not a right, so if you can't behave, you don't get to ruin everyone else's fun
*Have a theme. Every fourth year is the Olympics and our high school kids design competitions for the younger grade levels and the games are held over the first 6 weeks with medal ceremonies. The other years can be anything. This year is "community" in conjunction with things happening at the city level. We've had superhero and camping themes
*Reward the kids for being here consistently and working hard. We give prizes away daily, weekly, and a financial incentive at the end for high levels of attendance
With 60% of our financial support coming from state sources, we are the 8th highest out of 516 state public school districts. Summer school helps fund a lot of regular year expenditures, so we continually look for ways to get more kids here. Teachers report less "summer brain drain" when we start back in the fall along with better behavior because the first week of school is just "business as usual" for the majority of kids. Kindergarten teachers especially love kids who have been to summer school and already know the routines and procedures on Day 1.
The bottom line, really, is that school is a great place for kids to be and so we give them every reason to spend their summer with us.