New school calendar cuts into summer classes
Isle schools struggle to schedule courses during seven weeks off in June and July
Facing a shortened seven-week summer break beginning this year, a number of Hawaii school officials say they are struggling to put together summer-school programs and may have to scale them back or cancel them outright.
Summer school is typically an important way for students at the middle and high school level to recover credits from failed courses or amass extra credits with an eye toward college.
A new statewide public-school calendar going into effect in July shortens the summer break to seven weeks, but features other breaks throughout the year:
July 25: Teachers return for work.
July 27: First day for students.
Oct. 2-6: Fall recess.
Dec. 21-Jan. 10: Winter recess.
March 19-30: Spring recess.
June 8: Last day of school.
But some principals, who also must allow routine campus maintenance and free up teachers to prepare for the fall semester, say the shorter break may not leave enough time for the 120 hours of instruction necessary for each high school credit.
They also report difficulty finding enough willing teachers, who would lose nearly their entire summer vacation if they signed up.
"It's a combination of not enough staff, a shortened window and the demands of maintaining a big campus," said Wade Araki, principal of Benjamin Parker Elementary in Kaneohe and Windward Oahu's summer-school coordinator. "Schools need to narrow down their priorities."
The shorter summer is part of a new statewide school calendar going into effect in July, aimed at bringing order to a proliferation of varying school schedules across the state.
Classes will start on July 27 and there will be breaks of one week in the fall, three weeks at Christmas and two weeks in spring. Only 97 of the state's 250-plus public schools now follow some semblance of that schedule, with most of the rest switching this summer.
Many have yet to decide their summer plans, pending student demand and results of staff recruitment.
But Castle High School in Kaneohe, which held summer school last year, has already ruled it out.
"The probability of us finding a sufficient work force was slim and none," said Principal Meredith Maeda.
The school is exploring other options for its students, which may include Web-based courses.
Students can also enroll for summer classes outside their district, but the options available at other schools are likely to be fewer this year, said Alison Higa, summer school coordinator for the Honolulu district.
"Schools will focus on their own students' needs, whereas in the past they might have offered a range of classes even if their own students didn't need them all," she said.
The shorter break is expected to be felt most at middle and high schools, which typically achieve the 120 hours of class time through four-hour days spread over six weeks.
Classes, which cost $160 a credit, are often taken as a remedial measure for those who have flunked classes and need to recoup a credit.
But others use the summer to get through subjects that are less demanding, yet required, freeing them to load up during the rest of the school year on more challenging classes likely to impress college admissions officers.
"Summer school is really important to a lot of students who actually use it to get a leg up on college," said Darren Ibarra, student member of the state Board of Education, who attends Roosevelt High School near Punchbowl.
The summer complications come at an awkward time for this fall's incoming high school freshmen, who will be required to gain 24 credits -- up from 22 -- to graduate.
With most high school schedules geared to offer six credit classes a school year, that leaves little margin for error without the safety valve of summer school.
"It's doable, but it's going to be harder for them," said Chad Tokunaga, a Castle freshman. "They won't have as much wiggle room."
Kaiser High School in Hawaii Kai will hold a full summer school, not wanting to "shortchange" kids, said Vice Principal Anthony Gayer. But daily class time will have to be increased to more than six hours and Gayer said he is concerned about teacher and student "burnout."
"I'm worried about the residual effects when they come back for the fall semester, if they've had no time to rejuvenate and relax," he said. "Because this is new to all of us, we'll have to just try it and gauge our energy levels later."
Kalani High School, which has been on the new calendar for several years, has tried it and found summer school a struggle, said Vice Principal Laura Sato.
"In such a short time, course work will cover content, but not have the time to offer the educational experiences ... that allow students to apply what they learn, usually in project-based learning," she said.
Kalani has yet to decide its plans for summer.
The situation could lead more schools to increase the amount of classes students can take each year to seven or even eight, as a handful of schools have done already, school officials said.
Castle's Maeda said the school, which now lets students take six one-credit courses a year, is "exploring" that option.
State Assistant Superintendent Kathy Kawaguchi noted that many schools have dealt with the shorter summer successfully for years.
Still, she said the department is considering alternatives for students, such as expanding use of Web-based instruction, or offering support to struggling students during the fall, winter and spring breaks so that summer school might not be necessary.
"We want to provide the appropriate help along the way, rather than just waiting for students to fail," Kawaguchi said, though she added such programs are not yet on the horizon.
Higa advises parents to inquire with schools about their summer plans soon so they can assess their options.
"Parents should start talking with their children about doing very well in school so they don't need help in the summer because it might not be available," she said.