Credit: Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris
First-grade students put their arms out to ensure distancing during Freedom School, a summer academic enrichment program for Marin County students held at Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City.

California school districts have big plans for summer school this year. There are millions of dollars in federal and state money to spend on robust summer programs that meet students’ academic and social and emotional needs, but district officials are scrambling to find enough teachers to fill classrooms.

After months of teaching remotely and then transitioning to in-person instruction, with the plethora of accompanying safety precautions, many teachers say they are just too tired to take a summer job.

“There have been a record number of teacher retirements because of burnout,” said Jennifer Peck, executive director of Partnership for Children and Youth, an Oakland organization that advocates for learning opportunities for underserved youth. “Those remaining are exhausted and want to take a break and get ready for next year.”

That creates a dilemma for district officials who know students need summer programs this year more than ever, Peck said.

To fill the gaps, school districts are tapping retired teachers and student teachers to fill classrooms, while others are turning to churches, after-school programs and community organizations like Girls and Boys Clubs of America, Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts to help them offer in-person summer programs to students. Other districts are increasing teachers’ hourly pay or offering bonuses.

John Brazelton, a science teacher at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach, said summer school wages and the need to retool entire lesson plans to accommodate an accelerated schedule don’t make teaching summer school attractive in any year, but this year he is too tired to even consider it.

“Grading papers virtually is more time-consuming. Writing online assessments is more time-consuming. Nearly every part of the job — other than the actual teaching time — is more time-consuming,” Brazelton said.

Newport-Mesa Unified is currently in a hybrid model of instruction, with students in class part of the week and learning online from home part of the week. It has scheduled in-person academic classes and enrichment camps — which generally offer students activities like art and music — in June and July, and an online learning option from June to August for elementary students. Middle school students can take a two-week academic program and high school students can choose from an array of academic classes.

“Our district is offering summer school classes at each high school due to increased demand,” Brazelton said. “I have no idea how they will staff it, though.”

Peck said school districts should see this as an opportunity to look at staffing differently and perhaps partner with community groups. 

“Research is very, very clear: Most effective summer programs use a blended staffing model that includes community-based organizations,” she said. “There are a lot of creative ideas to capitalize on. We don’t want to see districts getting discouraged by a lack of teachers willing to work.”

Enrichment programs are especially important this year as they help entice students to attend summer programs, which can build a bridge into the next school year for students who may not have returned to in-person instruction and who need to build relationships with school staff and their peers, Peck said.

In Baltimore, artists are co-teaching with classroom teachers to provide a summer program based on the arts, said Aaron Philip Dworkin, chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association. Students in the program learn to rap and put on plays while taking academic coursework. In Washington, D.C., a summer youth employment program begins each paid workday with a half day of classes for high school students. 

“The situation we are in calls for innovation and hyper collaboration,” Dworkin said.

San Francisco Unified is teaming up with the city of San Francisco and community organizations to offer the Summer Together program to its students beginning in June. The program, which offers in-person and virtual classes, gives priority to students in special education, foster children, English learners and students from low-income families.

San Francisco Unified’s portion of the summer program focuses on its youngest students, students in special education, as well as high school students in need of credits to graduate on time or those preparing for college.

At its meeting April 20, district officials estimated that they were still short about 290 employees to staff its summer programs. The amount of programming offered will depend on whether there are enough teachers, said Jill Hoogendyk, the district’s chief of staff, at the school board meeting. 

“We are paying particular attention to staffing and are anticipating some staffing gaps,” she said.

Elk Grove Unified, the state’s fifth-largest school district, is planning a robust summer program that includes a weeklong arts camp, hands-on science and engineering classes, and themed camps at elementary and middle schools. The younger grades will focus on things like learning the alphabet or reading, while camps for older students will allow them to socialize and build a connection to their school campus, said Erin Sipes, a program specialist with the school district.

“We honestly don’t know what our teachers’ interest will be,” Sipes said, although a recent teacher survey has shown more interest than expected.

To ensure there will be enough staff for the program, the district is partnering with nearby Sacramento State to bring in teaching interns, hiring retired teachers and offering high school students work experience credit to assist teachers in elementary school classrooms.

Donna Glassman-Sommer, executive director of the California Center on Teaching Careers, a state-funded program that helps districts recruit and retain teachers, sees this summer as an opportunity for student-teachers to get the classroom experience they missed when most schools were closed over the last year.

“It would be an ideal thing for those folks, if they choose to volunteer,” she said.

Elk Grove Unified also is working with community partners to provide recreation and outdoor activities and other enrichment, which frees teachers up for academic classes, Sipes said. 

“The needs of our students and school community are different this year,” Sipes said. “The need for recovery is magnified this year.”

Tulare County schools are among the many in the state who are offering teachers stipends and pay raises to teach summer school. Teachers were exhausted and had little interest in working this summer, so many school districts added stipends and extra pay to entice them to sign up, said Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Tim A. Hire. 

Hire said schools in the county are getting innovative about summer school by offering academic programs that include field trips and enrichment opportunities to entice students to attend. In some districts, teachers are given more flexibility to use their expertise to teach students things outside the usual curriculum, like photography and video editing.

“We have a long history in Tulare County of teachers stepping up where they are needed,” Hire said. “I’m hearing, with the financial incentive and flexibility, that teachers are stepping into those positions.”

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, also is bulking up its summer programs, adding more classes and working with more community partners than in previous years to provide enrichment and academic summer classes to all students who want them, said Superintendent Austin Beutner. 

The district isn’t planning to offer higher-than-usual hourly pay to teachers for working in the summer, but they will offer more training and will pay teachers for that time, said Barbara Jones, spokeswoman for the district.

The district is still finalizing plans and isn’t certain how many teachers will sign up. 

“We are balancing how many teachers will have the energy,” Beutner said. “We hope as many as possible.”

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article

Comments (4)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. SD Parent 2 years ago2 years ago

    2021 summer school has been promoted as the panacea by school districts so make up for months of shortened instructional time and distance learning during the pandemic, and there have been lots of promises made. But it continues to be little more than magical thinking and I fear, empty promises. Let's put our critical thinking caps on: • There are not enough teachers to staff summer school. Initially, school districts assumed that if they built a … Read More

    2021 summer school has been promoted as the panacea by school districts so make up for months of shortened instructional time and distance learning during the pandemic, and there have been lots of promises made. But it continues to be little more than magical thinking and I fear, empty promises.

    Let’s put our critical thinking caps on:
    • There are not enough teachers to staff summer school. Initially, school districts assumed that if they built a summer school program, then teachers would be willing to teach. They aren’t because it’s been a long year and they want a break. This was entirely predictable.
    • Now, the magical thinking is that retired teachers, student teachers, and high school students will fill in the shortage. They mean the teachers who just retired because the pandemic was too much for them? Nope. The teachers who retired years ago for whom the risk of COVID-19 is higher because they are older and who have no experience teaching during the pandemic? Highly unlikely. Student teachers and high school students? They might step in, but how effective will they actually be in providing instruction for learning loss recovery?
    • There is additional magical thinking around enrichment programs by community partners or allowing “flexibility” in instruction by teachers. First, this assumes that community partners step forward and that these partners will be able to staff their enrichment programs–also a stretch, as there is an employee shortage in many low-wage service industries. Community-partner enrichment programs (like soccer skills or musical theater), or allowing teachers to provide alternative instruction in video editing or photography, will likely help address the mental health trauma of the pandemic and re-engage students into school. But these fail to address the core learning loss that occurred.

    Fundamentally, I’m concerned that the pressure to offer summer school as a solution to learning loss during the past 14 months is driving school districts to spend lots of money on something that will have little meaningful impact on the actual learning loss. Everyone in education needs stop dreaming, take stock, and create a realistic plan to help students recover not just emotionally but academically.

  2. Tim Taylor 2 years ago2 years ago

    Great article. Spot on! People are exhausted and asking them to teach some more when we all need a break is a tough one. Even students could use some down time – It has been a long year. Nice work, Diana!

  3. Kimmy b 2 years ago2 years ago

    The pandemic has opened my eyes to what pansies our public school teachers are. Our nurses are who really deserve a summer off!!!


    • HP 2 years ago2 years ago

      We can always use subs and new teachers!