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Updated: Hillside Classes Will Count Toward Graduation

After a heated discussion with public outbursts, LCUSD board members opt not to vote on a required minimum of instructional minutes for summer school.

After a meeting punctuated by thunderous applause, standing ovations and gavel-quieting outbursts, the will not set a minimum standard for instructional minutes for summer school this year, allowing credits from to count toward graduation.

Board members voted 5-0 to table the discussion and research the efficacy of longer seat time, and whether that correlates to higher test scores. No decision on whether to disqualify credits from schools that offer less than four-hour long classes, such as Hillside, will be made prior to the 2012 school year, members voted.

Superintendent Jim Stratton had recommended the board approve a minimum instructional time of 6,960 minutes for summer school classes to count on La Cañada High's transcripts for graduation credit. Hillside's seat time is roughly half of that, at about two hours per class. 

Having consulted with neighboring schools regarding the length of their summer school classes, Stratton believed it best to create a standard that the district could use to decide whether a class was worthy of ending up on a La Cañada transcript. Still, with the UCs, Stanford and USC accepting classes from the WASC-accredited Hillside, it seemed pointless for La Cañada to refuse those credits, parents argued.

“Our main objective is to maintain the integrity of the courses,’’ LCHS Principal Jackie Luzak said, addressing the board Tuesday night. Without a standard, there’s no way to justify which classes could be accepted, she explained. 

Luzak researched 11 neighboring schools within LCHS’s academic range, displaying  the number of minutes schools from Agoura to Temple City require for their students to earn summer school credit – with the longest classes comprising about five hours a day.

When asked by board member Cindy Wilcox if Luzak had any data to show the board, regarding the efficacy of longer summer school classes, Luzak said she did not. And following audience grumbles replied, “This is not a personal vendetta against Hillside.’’

Speaking up from the back row of the audience, Hillside Executive Director Bob Frank said his school’s two-hour classes are non-stop, but for a quick bathroom break.  Their students don’t watch movies or do their homework in class, nor do they take multiple breaks – sometimes a “filler’’ for a four-hour stretch.

To this, the impassioned parents who packed the board room, often times shouting over the board members who were discussing whether to wait or vote on the recommended minimum instructional time, stood and cheered.

Speaker Becky Lenkey, through a round of applause, suggested the district’s attempt to disqualify shorter classes, such as Hillside’s, was a way to mitigate the competition.

La Cañada High School, itself, can no longer afford to offer summer classes, so last fall the board approved an agreement between the district and the non-profit La Cañada Educational Foundation, which allows the LCFEF to use district curriculum, classrooms and textbooks for summer classes. LCFEF’s 2011 program would charge tuition and fees to cover its costs, with any profits going back into the district – which has a $6 million budget shortfall for the 2011-12 school year.

Board member Jeanne Broberg was quick to refute the competition claim, saying the district needs the Educational Foundation regardless of whether their students take classes at local private schools.

Speaker John Lafia pointed out Hillside’s Socratic method – a handful of students sitting around a table with the teacher – made the difference in his son’s academic progress. Sitting across from your teacher for that length of time keeps you on track, he said.

“At La Canada High school you’re stuck with 35 kids in the room. My son could not have made it through high school without [Hillside’s summer classes]. I can’t imagine the stress it would’ve put on him,’’ Lafia said.

Parent Lisa Brownfield addressed the board with information she gathered regarding nearby schools, information that differed a bit from Luzak’s. Because Browfield’s numbers showed nearby, private Flintridge Preparatory summer school classes totaling 6,000 minutes – shorter than the superintendent’s recommended seat time – board members suggested she share her collected data with district officials.

Ultimately, board president Susan Boyd with members Broberg and Scott Tracy said a standard for instructional minutes is a good idea, with Wilcox and Joel Peterson reiterating the need for outcome data before making any kind of decision.  And when Hillside’s executive director said he believes that Hillside students’ test scores surpass those of kids who take various year-long classes at La Cañada, Boyd suggested Hillside work with the district to improve their curriculum.

 “I’d be more than happy to sit down with whomever to work out a program that benefits everyone,’’ Frank said.

Alison McQuay August 08, 2012 at 09:10 PM
It's not the number of hours, it's the content. If they can pass the same final exam as that given by LCUSD classes, then they should get the credit.

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