Hillside controversy is back on the agenda

School board members are expected to revisit a proposal Tuesday that could limit graduation credit accepted by La Cañada Unified for summer school courses taken at alternative sites such as Hillside School and Learning Center.

Supt. Wendy Sinnette said Wednesday afternoon that the board meeting agenda wouldn’t be finalized and made public until 4 p.m. Thursday, but added that she expected the item to appear in the form of a staff recommendation.

In January, then-Supt. Jim Stratton proposed establishing a new district policy requiring a minimum of 6,960 instructional minutes — or four hours a day, five days a week for six weeks— per summer school class, the length of summer courses at many local high schools. The requirement could help to maintain the high academic standards expected in La Cañada, Stratton said.

Hillside School and Learning Center summer school classes are 3,480 minutes long — or two hours a day, five days a week for six weeks. If the school board adopts the proposed policy, La Cañada High School students no longer would be able to earn transferable credits at the alternative site.

La Cañada Unified has accepted transfer credits from Hillside, whose campus is adjacent to La Cañada High School, for more than 15 years, according to Hillside executive director Bob Frank. The learning center is licensed by California’s Department of Education, accredited by the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges and offers classes preapproved by the University of California and NCAA schools, he added.

“It hurt, in a sense,” Frank said of the proposal. “I always looked at Hillside as contributing to the community, helping the school district. A kid can take a class here and pass and that is one more graduation number for them. We are helping these kids get into colleges and universities.”

School board members in January shelved a vote on the proposed change after several dozen community members voiced objections.

Some parents credited Hillside with meeting their children’s unique learning needs and getting them through to graduation. Others described the district’s interest in freezing out Hillside classes as financially motivated — the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation is now operating the high school summer school program, with any profit augmenting its annual gift to La Cañada Unified.

District staffers have spent months comparing the academic performance of students who take classes at Hillside and students who take the same classes at La Cañada High School in an effort to identify any gaps. That information is expected to be presented at the board meeting on Tuesday.

“It is important that people come [to the meeting] if they are interested in maintaining Hillside as a summer school option,” school board member Cindy Wilcox said.

Hillside serves 250 to 300 students each summer, with 60% of those coming from La Cañada High School, Frank said. The learning center offers a good alternative for students who need a more intimate academic environment or more flexible scheduling, he said.

“It is a small class with a lot of individual attention and focus on instruction,” Frank said. “You go to a four-hour class and how much of it is instruction and how much is doing your homework or watching a movie? The kids can do homework at home.”

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