What We DO Know About Summer School

By Ben Hannemann, Director of Mission Advancement

A recent blog post on nprEd “What We Don’t Know about Summer School” raises some important questions about K-12 summer school programming across the United States. Despite well-documented research that most students experience a summer learning slide that requires teachers to spend four to six weeks to get students caught up in the fall, there is very little data and discussion around what makes summer school effective for students, and ensures that the millions of dollars spent on various summer programs throughout the country are being spent well.

In the interest of generating discussion about what we DO know about summer school, let’s take a brief look at an example of summer school success here in Milwaukee. To support the efforts of one of our partner schools, PAVE provided a three year catalytic grant to St. Marcus Lutheran School to help them establish a more rigorous summer school program. Nearly half of the roughly 750 students that attend St Marcus voluntarily register for this summer session. Students include rising 1st graders (k5) through rising 8th graders (7th grade) attending a four week summer program that runs daily from 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Academics are the morning focus, and enrichment activities (arts, music, athletics, etc.) are offered in the afternoon. Breakfast and lunch are also provided.

St. Marcus took this program to another level and made it unique by engaging the Center for Urban Teaching (CfUT), an urban education support organization with the mission to identity, prepare and support high-performing urban teachers. From the CfUt perspective, this program offers an excellent opportunity for the undergraduate teachers in their program to gain major, practical urban experience. It also gives the hardworking staff of St. Marcus the opportunity to pursue other non-teaching activities over the summer, to recharge and rejuvenate before the start of the traditional school year.

To ensure that the students of St. Marcus are the ultimate beneficiary of this approach, two weeks in advance of the summer program start date, the CfUT staff and undergraduate team worked together to prepare all elements of the academic curriculum, enrichment options, and parent engagement approaches. By studying gaps in learning identified by the most up-to-date St. Marcus WKCE scores, a customized academic unit was set up for the students. Pre and post-summer program tests were then given to each participating student. Outcomes of the 2013 summer session highlight the impact of this approach – the total school Reading Assessment showed a 4.9% improvement from pre (65.8%) to post (70.8%) and the total school Math Assessment showed 6.9% improvement, from pre (63.2%) to post (70.1%). The 2014 summer program wrapped up last week and we look forward to similar results again this year! And, as you can see in the video below, they also had some fun in the process.

So, although summer school is an under-researched topic, as indicated in the nprEd blog post, many individual schools are doing their own practical research and determining what is effective based on their own assessments. This enables them to improve their summer programs year-after-year and achieve long-lasting results, unique to their community and student’s needs.

How does your school evaluate its summer programs? If you have a student in a summer program, in what ways was it successful for him or her? What fundamentals make a summer program successful?

Welcome to The PAVE Blog

By Dan McKinley, President & CEO

Summer is a great time to begin reading a new book—perhaps a mystery you have set aside for a vacation day…leaving the nuts and bolts of work behind and letting your imagination take you to interesting new places.

In this spirit I invite you to read the new PAVE Blog. Here you will find important and interesting topics, explored by people who are both knowledgeable about education reform nationally and in close touch with people who are really making a difference in the lives of families and children in Milwaukee’s schools. Welcome to The PAVE Blog What makes the PAVE Blog distinctive? It’s what you will not find here: the usual clichés about the same old problems with education. What you will find: insights into what is working in schools that are achieving success through innovation and hard work. Stories of people who aspire to change the way things are, who know that inspiration, and persistent and organized work can bring out the best in everyone involved in a school community.

PAVE’s particular focus is on recruiting, training and organizing people who have the authority and responsibility to make decisions about how a school is organized and who are accountable for its performance. In a word, we are involved in good governance. “Governance” is a word that describes something that is all around us, but is so abstract it’s practically invisible. Go into a school and you will see teachers teaching and students hopefully learning; you may see the Principal who hires the teachers, but you will not see the independent board of volunteer directors who together decide on the priorities for the school, hire the principal and evaluate his/her performance annually, make sure the budget is well managed, and support the school’s progress.

The school’s board—it is the alpha and omega of systemic change –but do we really know what distinguishes exceptionally effective boards from a board that uses “Robert’s Rules of Order,” but doesn’t hold itself accountable for performance? We need to celebrate the work of boards that are living up to their potential to transform the lives of children who live in pervasive poverty—because in Milwaukee the way things are for children must change. The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently published an authoritative study in which “Wisconsin is ranked the worst state in the country when it comes to racial disparities for children… from educational access to socioeconomic status and home life.”

We at PAVE know some great stories and evidence of what good governance is all about. We will use this blog space to talk about what is happening that is truly important and interesting.

Above all, we want to hear from you, because your questions or observations will open up new issues to explore. Please join us.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – Advice for Board Chairs

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Board Chair Advice

Simmons Lettre’s recent blog post “Thoughts from an Outgoing Board Chair” on the Charter Board Partners’ website reminded me of one of our most engaging workshop sessions this past year. A panel of three of the most successful and experienced school board chairs in Milwaukee, Jose Olivieri of Bruce Guadalupe Community School, Peter Bruce from Urban Day School, and Mary Diez of Carmen High School, shared their collective wisdom with board members and heads of schools. They echoed many of Simmons’ musings and added a few others. A sampling:

  • You’re not just one of the gang anymore – When you are a “regular” board member, you can sometimes coast at board meetings, surreptitiously check your email, come (a bit) unprepared, perhaps not read every report. But as the chair, you have to be totally on top of your game, ready to lead discussion, engage other members, ask probing questions. You simply can’t flip the “off” switch.
  • Don’t let your Executive Committee get out of hand – As Chair, you will head up this important committee. It is a critical group for being able to come together quickly in a crisis, but don’t let it become a “board within a board.” Members not on the Executive Committee will wonder what they are there for if this group becomes too powerful.
  • Be sure to have a capable #2 in place – As Spider Man learned, with great power comes great responsibility. Being Board Chair can be a lonely job and it’s important to have a strong Vice Chair or Chair Elect to work with. Not only will you have another mind working to problem solve and trouble shoot, you are also providing on-the-job training for the person who will inherit your position.
  • Take time to celebrate – Board work is hard and celebrating success provides encouragement for taking on bigger challenges in the future. Too often, accomplishments are lost in the midst of financial statements and bylaw revisions. So don’t forget to break out the bubbly, cue the noisemakers, and let them eat cake!

Make sure to read Simmons’ blog post too and then comment below and share your insight about being a board chair (or, being on a board with a great chair).