School board vote could impact Hillside, other programs

The Hillside School and Learning Center may no longer meet La Cañada Unified School District requirements, depending on a vote expected to be taken at the school board meeting that gets underway at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the district office at 4490 Cornishon Ave.

The school board is expected to vote to establish "a consistent standard for required instructional hours" for students to meet as they search for a summer school provider.

The district cut La Cañada High School's summer school program for 2011 in July to save the district $87,405 annually. As a result, district Supt. Jim Stratton said many LCHS students will be looking for a new summer school and will want to know what courses will qualify for high school credit.

"The high school is seeking to have some standard by which it can say what courses are going to be accepted and which aren't," Stratton said.

La Cañada High School's administrative staff researched similarly high-performing schools in the area and is recommending the district only accept courses that offer a minimum of 6,960 instructional minutes, a "pretty much standard number almost everyone is right around," Stratton said.

For the past 15 years, Hillside has been an acceptable summer school provider for La Cañada High students. That could all change, depending on the school board's vote. Hillside offers smaller class sizes that include two hours of instruction and wouldn't meet the 6,096 minute mark. Hillside is licensed by the state Department of Education, accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and have classes approved by the University of California and NCAA schools.

"Hillside has run the same program for the last 15 years and there has never been a problem before," said Bob Frank, Hillside's executive director, in an e-mail. "It has been Hillside's experience that small classes and experienced instructors can provide an excellent education for students and an option for the students and families of the community."

The vote comes a few months after the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation announced, in September, it will be forming its own summer school program in 2011 as a replacement for the La Cañada High's program. Any profits from the Foundation's summer school program will be donated to the district.

School board member Cindy Wilcox said she's worried the district will bureaucratically disqualify competition to the Foundation's summer school without looking at how students who attend or have attended Hillside perform on standardized testing.

"It's true, the amount of seat time does matter, but on the other hand, it's not the be-all and end-all," Wilcox said. "You can negate the value of being in the seat depending on the teacher or size of the class."

Stratton said the move to accept a certain amount of instructional minutes wasn't made with any specific school in mind.

"It's not a case of either the high school or the board evaluating Hillside or any other school. The high school just wants to have some standard that it can use as it's making a decision as to why it might say yes to one school and no to another," Stratton said.

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