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Research Questions

  1. How are summer leaders integrating their summer learning programs into their district's core priorities and operations?
  2. Why were they motivated to do this?
  3. What benefits and challenges were associated with the strategies they used?
  4. What can other districts learn from the experiences of the districts we studied?

During the school year leading up to summer 2015, summer leaders in Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Rochester made concerted efforts to integrate their summer learning programs into the core priorities and operations of the larger school district as a strategy to increase sustainability. This report examines these efforts and their impacts. The recommendations should be useful to leaders of district-led summer programs and others who support sustaining them.

Data for this report are drawn from interviews, meeting minutes, and summer program and district documents. Starting in November 2015 through January 2016, the authors interviewed 62 district staff members involved in summer programming in these three districts.

This report does not intend to represent all aspects of integration within each of these districts. The experiences of these districts will not necessarily correspond to experiences in other districts. The goal is to independently record and analyze their work as accurately as possible and to identify lessons that other summer leaders might find useful for improving the sustainability of their summer programs.

The findings should be of interest to others who lead or support summer learning programs. The findings in this report include why the summer leaders pursued integration and the strategies they used to do so.

Key Findings

Program Leaders Used Three Integration Strategies

  • Building understanding of the summer learning programs and connecting program goals to larger district goals.
  • Ensuring all relevant departments were represented in the planning process.
  • Involving expert staff in and capitalizing on district systems to support summer program planning and operations.

Program Leaders Encountered Challenges to Integration

  • Some stakeholders were waiting to make judgments on the importance of summer until they saw data-based evidence that the programs were improving students' outcomes.
  • It was also challenging for district staff to adjust to new expectations and relationships created by the more expansive planning processes.
  • Challenges included ensuring that district staff who did not work in the summer office but were asked to work on summer tasks had time to do so, understood the essential components of the summer programs and were incentivized to execute summer tasks well (and on time) without perpetuating the sense that these tasks were add-ons.

Program Leaders Cited Several Benefits from Their Integration Work

  • Integration strategies resulted in greater awareness of summer program portfolios and increased buy-in from teachers, principals, district department staff, superintendents, and the school board, many of whom in turn became vocal champions for summer programming.
  • Superintendents followed up statements of support with concrete action, setting goals to serve greater numbers of students and making funding commitments.
  • Districts' creation of cross-departmental planning teams resulted in improved efficiencies. These savings helped improve affordability, ultimately promoting sustainability.
  • Summer program quality was improved by capitalizing on district experts and systems.

Recommendations

  • Build understanding and connect summer program goals to district goals.
  • Establish cross-departmental planning.
  • Capitalize on existing experts and systems to complete summer tasks.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Reasons to Integrate Summer Programs Into Core District Priorities and Operations

  • Chapter Three

    Building Awareness and Connecting Summer Programs to District Goals

  • Chapter Four

    Establishing Cross-Departmental Planning Structures

  • Chapter Five

    Capitalizing on Existing Experts and Systems

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and Recommendations

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND Education.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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