Two Superintendents on the Essential Qualities of Summer Learning

Two Superintendents
Jennifer Sloan-McCombs and Bolgen Vargas discuss summer learning during a Thursday morning panel.

By Sarah Chan

School districts nationwide are looking toward summer learning programs as a principal means of closing the persistent achievement gap in their schools.

This was the essential message Bolgen Vargas delivered Thursday morning during the panel discussion “Getting Smart about Summer Learning” at the AASA national conference in San Diego, Calif. Vargas, superintendent of the Rochester City School District in Rochester, N.Y., sees the summer months as essential to solving the achievement gap among students.

He told attendees he believes summer learning should not be a one-time occasion but rather a long-term investment. Because of this, schools must provide summer learning to students at an early age.

Stressing that summer learning programs should be a basic part of the support and services available to students, Vargas emphasized that schools must determine which educational programs are worth the investment to ensure a high-quality program.

“Budgeting is key,” Vargas said. “Make sure that it is an investment in which you are expecting a result.”

Summer vacation is where the majority of inequity occurs in students’ educational levels. During the summer break, students lose two to three months of school learning if they do not practice their skills.

Like Vargas, Antwan Wilson, superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, Calif., believes summer learning programs are the optimal way to eliminate inequity.

First, students need to be convinced that summer learning is important and that an extension of their school year education can even be fun, Wilson stressed. These students also can engage parents and offer family literacy opportunities.

In the question-and-answer session, Vargas emphasized that summer school cannot be operated in isolation, but must be part of a districtwide program that involves the community.

Wilson referred to Oakland’s plan when he described how to start thinking about implementing summer learning programs -- plan year-round, cast a wide net using the entire community, stay focused and establish a clear vision and goal. The result, he added, should help students reach their aspirations.

“Summer is a good time to connect with students to their dreams, and what they put in will go a long way in terms of what they get out of it,” Wilson said.

(Sarah Chan is a junior at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego.)

Access the presentation slides on AASA's Conference Daily Online.