Summer-school class hour measure tabled

Faced with parents who are up in arms over a proposal that La Cañada High School's standard of 6,960 instructional minutes per summer-school class be applied to non-district summer schools, the school board Tuesday tabled a decision on the recommendation.

Of particular concern to some parents is the fact that if the district requires 6,960 instructional minutes per summer-school class taken off campus — the same number of minutes currently met at La Cañada High School — courses taken at Hillside School and Learning Center, which each amount to 3,480 instructional minutes, will not be accepted at LCHS.

Hillside, which sits next door to the public high school, offers core subjects and has long been relied on by many local families trying to meet their teens' learning and scheduling needs. Approximately 70% of Hillside's summer enrollment comprises La Cañada High students, according to Bob Frank, the school's executive director.

Frank said he believes his school's smaller class sizes and high-quality teachers make up for the fewer instructional minutes.

"I'm more than happy to work with, coordinate and integrate programs with the high school, but I don't want to change our curriculum per se and I don't want to change our hours per se. I think we've got a formula that works for the kids in the community," Frank said, adding that Hillside students score as well, or better, than La Cañada High students on standardized testing.

Moreover, for the past 15 years, Hillside has been deemed an acceptable summer-school provider by La Cañada Unified, Frank said. The school is licensed by California's Department of Education, accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and offers classes approved by the University of California and NCAA schools.

The recommendation by Supt. Jim Stratton to require the 6,960 instructional minutes per course came as a result of research of 11 similarly high-performing schools done by La Cañada High's administrative staff. Most schools were right around that number, Stratton said. Had the board adopted the standard Tuesday night, it would have gone into effect this summer.

Discussion of the matter lasted more than an hour, with several district parents voicing their disapproval with the recommendation. Governing Board President Susan Boyd banged her gavel several different times throughout the night to bring order to the room.

Speculation among some parents is that the recommendation amounts to a money grab. The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation announced in September that it will be forming its own summer-school program in 2011 as a replacement for the La Cañada High's program. La Cañada High cut its summer school program to save the district $87,405 annually. Any profits from the Foundation's summer school program will be donated to the district.

"Why are we looking at this now? To me, it's very obvious," said Becky Lankey, a district parent and active PTA member. "The Foundation is moving forward with a summer school and they're worried about their enrollment, so [the foundation's strategy is] 'let's get rid of the competition and have everyone go to the Foundation's summer school.' I don't think that's fair and I don't think that's right."

Scott Tracy, school-board vice president, said he is in favor of adopting a standard of instructional for courses from alternative providers.

"We don't do our students any favors if they aren't prepared for college," Tracy said.

School-board member Joel Peterson said he agreed that it was important to ensure that students receive the best possible education, but he balked at summing up an entire program by number of instructional hours only.

"I'm a little concerned when we're looking at a single number and using that as a litmus test for whether we will accept or not accept," Peterson said.

The board ultimately decided unanimously to revisit the matter at an undetermined date in order to give the district time to study how well Hillside students perform on standardized tests, information that was not available at this week's meeting. Should the recommendation be adopted later this year, it will not go into effect until 2012.

Although the night's discussion focused mostly on Hillside, La Cañada High School Principal Jacqueline Luzak said the research done by the school's administration wasn't done with a vendetta against one specific school.

Still, most people in attendance were relieved to have Hillside as an option for at least one more year.

"My son, who does have some learning issues, could not have made it through La Cañada High without the help of Hillside," said John Lafia, a former district parent. "I can't even imagine the stress it would have put on him if he didn't have that option."

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