Summer school in autumn? Duluth district staffing issues could postpone credit recovery classes
Fewer in-person summer school options could make it tough for students to catch up academically.
DULUTH — Some Duluth Public Schools students are set to take summer school — “credit recovery” — classes even after the weather turns cold.
District administrators are struggling to staff their summer in-person class offerings, even as enrollment in them has swelled. That means fewer spots for students who need to retake a class before they head back to school in the fall, which, in turn, could make it harder for them to catch up academically.
“As a result, I would say, of the last two years, with a pandemic, we’re just seeing fewer teachers that are either available or interested with continuing to teach or to provide that summer school support,” said Homecroft Elementary Principal Tom Cawcutt, who coordinates the district's summer school programs for K-8.
“This is the first year in my time with supervising summer school that we’ve even had a challenging time filling some of our classes," he said. "I think the underlying tone is that not only do kids and families, but teachers — it kind of feels like they just need a break.”
Meanwhile, a relatively high number of students are failing classes, which can mean remedial work after the school year ends. As of Thursday, 156 students were enrolled in the district’s two sections of in-person credit recovery classes, according to staff there.
That’s lower than the 227 enrolled in three sections last summer, but still higher than the 100-120 who would be enrolled in a typical pre-pandemic year, according to Area Learning Center Principal Nathan Glockle, who handles ninth through 12th grade summer school. This year’s number would have been higher, but administrators moved some students who are eligible to an online-based independent study program because they didn’t have enough teachers.
“We’ve got high numbers, high needs and not the staff to fill it,” Glockle said.
Administrators have employed some “creative scheduling” that aims to ensure students who need in-person summer schooling are enrolled in at least one in-person class. But that’s far from perfect because many students need more than one remedial class, and not being enrolled in each of the classes they need presumably means shunting the remainder to the school year proper.
“It’s not ideal what we had to do,” Glockle said.
Catching up during 10th grade on algebra, which is a typical ninth grade math offering, might preempt 10th grade geometry, for instance, and could mean a student is playing catch-up in their math classes for the remainder of their schooling.
“This is kind of where we get into that achievement gap and that graduation rate problem happening. They don’t have any other options, so they will have to take their algebra, but that’s going to take the place of something else that is required,” Glockle said. “And you can imagine, if you hate math to begin with, just as an example, and you’ve already gone through it once, and then you’ve got to go through it again, the chances of you, after 18 months, going to like math is probably not very good.”
What’s the solution?
For the moment, Duluth Public Schools plans to spend some of its COVID-19 relief money on after-school “extended learning” for elementary students and hopes to do the same for middle and high schoolers.
The goal is to alleviate the academic logjam created by scheduling remedial classes during the school year proper. But that solution, too, is far from perfect because the district’s COVID money is set to dry up. The last of it needs to be spent by September 2024.
The district also got a $75,000 state grant that would pay for staff at Lake Superior College to teach dual-credit classes to Duluth Public Schools students. There, they’d be earning credits rather than figuratively recovering them. The college is offering a one-credit “first-year experience” program for up to 25 students who’d head to the college for one day each week for four weeks.
Longer-term, administrators are considering a plan that would effectively let a student test out of remedial classes. If a ninth grader failed ninth grade English in the school year and again in the summer, but was able to score well enough on an English test to show they had mastered the material anyway, they could tick that box and move on to the next class on their list. That plan might not come to fruition for the next year or two, though.
“Maybe they just didn’t like the content in the classroom or they were disengaged or life hit them and they still did their work but didn’t turn it in,” Glockle said. “We still want their students to get their credit if they can prove proficiency.”