A Message from the Superintendent

Summer Is the Real Key to Student Success

As education leaders, my fellow superintendents and I have spent our entire careers trying to figure out how to ensure students’ success during the school year. Now, more and more of us are realizing that the key may very well be keeping those students engaged throughout the whole year.

Yes, summer matters.

As the Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools, I have always been focused on giving our students the best education they can get from fall through spring. Now, thanks to some recent changes in state policy, we don’t have to ignore that other season anymore.

This year there has been a major change in the way the state allocates funding to our 10 local school districts. The new system for school funding and accountability (called the Local Control Funding Formula or LCFF) is designed to engage parents, students, teachers, administrators, community members and others in an ongoing dialogue about what is best for our kids and our schools. The idea is that nobody knows what each community needs more than the community itself, and all of us must be actively involved in the decision making process for our community’s children to thrive.

Accountability for our schools’ success—and failure—is now driven by grassroots decisions, not by Sacramento. I’m excited to consider new and innovative solutions to move student success forward in Santa Cruz County, which brings us back to summer.

Research has unequivocally shown that a lack of learning experiences and opportunities during summer months causes learning to stall and even be lost. Many kids already have enriching experiences all summer long—at day and sleep-away camps, family vacations, and trips to libraries, museums and parks. But those activities take time and money—two resources that many of our friends and neighbors in Santa Cruz County simply do not have enough of. So every summer, some students keep growing and learning, while many of our most vulnerable children fall further and further behind.

We know that an idle summer creates a gap of about 3 months in reading and language achievement between middle and low-income students. And because summer learning loss is cumulative over time, it leads to increased dropout rates among those students who have fallen behind. We simply can’t help our students achieve their goals when our gains are erased over the summer.

Across California, a solution is coming together and spreading. And it’s not traditional summer school. It’s a new hybrid that inspires learning through fun, engaging activities—group projects, presentations, open-ended questions and culminating events. In the process, summer learning programs are regularly promoting collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity which all soon will be required as part of the Common Core State Standards.

Making these programs lively and engaging does more than just allow students to have fun. It also allows summer learning programs to map directly to our student engagement goals. They get children excited about learning and increase their attachment to school environments. By blending academic and enrichment activities—from gardening projects to summer robotics classes—we have the chance to teach in ways that are intrinsically interesting to students, and therefore motivate them to take ownership of their learning and see new ways to utilize or interpret what they’ve learned during the school year.

Research shows that summer learning programs enhance students’ self-confidence, persistence in their academic pursuits, willingness to try new things, and sense of belonging to the school community.

I am proud to be one of more than forty Superintendents to “Stand up for Summer” as part of the Summer Matters campaign to support this new vision of summer learning statewide. As I join my fellow community leaders in the important work of re-envisioning education, I look forward to hearing your valuable thoughts and ideas in our upcoming public hearings on the LCFF in May and June. I hope you will stand up with me in support of summer learning for all our students.

Michael C. Watkins
County Superintendent of Schools
Santa Cruz County Office of Education


Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on May 3, 2014