Atlanta Public Schools may require students to attend summer school

Atlanta Public Schools is planning a four-week summer program to help catch up students who fell behind during the pandemic. AJC FILE PHOTO/Alyssa Pointer

Atlanta Public Schools is planning a four-week summer program to help catch up students who fell behind during the pandemic. AJC FILE PHOTO/Alyssa Pointer

Atlanta Public Schools will offer a four-week summer school program to help students who struggled academically before and during the pandemic.

As an indication of just how dire officials think learning loss could be, the district is exploring a dramatic step: Requiring some students to attend the June session.

The Summer Academic Recovery Academy will run five-days-a-week and will be offered both online and in-person.

“At this time, we are strongly encouraging daily student attendance for the full four weeks, but we are working closely with our legal department to explore options for mandatory student attendance,” Yolonda Brown, chief academics officer, told school board members this week.

Board members didn’t balk at the idea. A couple even suggested the district expand the program.

“I think there’s such a need right now with the learning loss,” said Erika Mitchell, who represents neighborhoods in west Atlanta. “I would like to see a full summer.”

Chairman Jason Esteves said APS needs to consider moving to a year-round schedule “as a long-term intervention strategy.”

As currently proposed, the district envisions more than half of its 51,000 students will participate this summer. To accommodate 28,000 students, APS would need 1,870 teachers at more than three dozen sites.

The district based those estimates on how students performed on state tests in 2019, when those assessments were last given. Pre-pandemic, nearly two thirds of the district’s third through eighth graders did not score at proficient levels in math and English. A majority of high school students also struggled on state tests.

Officials fear students will suffer more setbacks because of pandemic disruptions and moving classes online. Brown called it “the COVID-19 slide.”

As a leader of the parent group Atlanta Thrive, Kimberly Dukes pushed APS for years to act with more urgency to support students and address low-performing schools. She’s pleased the district plans to offer a summer program because she said all students need academic help.

But, she said, it’s difficult even during a normal school year for families to juggle jobs and the demands and stresses of daily life during a pandemic.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to say it’s mandatory,” Dukes said, of summer school. “We know we need extra learning, but I don’t know if it’s going to work for every parent.”

Families need options, she said. APS should consider adding more after-school, evening and Saturday programs: “What we cannot do is go back to where we were,” she said.

In 2018, the district revamped its summer program in an effort to boost participation. Instructors focused on engaging, fun activities and shied away from the kind of academic drills that gave summer school a bad rap.

Now the program will change again.

Each morning, teachers will focus on math and literacy. Afternoons will be spent on enrichment activities and lessons featuring art, science and other subjects. The program will be offered for three consecutive summers.

In addition to the summer session, the district will require schools to carve out time in the coming school years to provide extra math and literacy support. Every school must schedule intervention periods at least three times a week.

The district also will introduce a new assessment tool to track what information students missed and measure their academic progress.

The cost of the summer program will depend on enrollment numbers. In November, the chief financial officer said she set aside $10 million from the district’s rainy day fund for academic recovery and intervention efforts. The district also received federal stimulus money to help with its pandemic response.