San Diego Unified approves $22 million summer school plan to help struggling students

San Diego Unified high school students talk about algebra during a peer tutoring program in 2016.
(File / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Twenty percent of the district’s high school seniors are not on track to graduate in June.


After almost a year of classrooms being closed to regular in-person instruction, the San Diego Unified School District board approved $22 million for an expanded in-person and online summer school program to help students improve their grades, which have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and disruptions to learning.

The need for the “accelerated” learning plan is significant, district officials say — one in five San Diego Unified high school students are not on track to graduate in June, the district reported at a board meeting March 9.

The percentages of grades issued that were D’s or F’s rose from 13 percent in middle schools during the first semester of last school year to 23 percent during the same time this school year, according to district grade data presented at the meeting.

For high school students, it rose from 15 percent to 21 percent.

Meanwhile, the total number of middle school students who received a D or F in at least one class rose from 6,900 in the first semester of last school year to 8,500 in the first semester this school year.

The number of high school students who received a D or F did not appear to change as much — rising from about 11,000 to 11,600. Overall, district enrollment decreased from last school year.

“This tells us that students who are struggling are struggling not just in one course but in multiple courses,” said Nicole DeWitt, instructional officer for San Diego Unified.

The district also reported that it had an 89 percent high school graduation rate last school year. There are some gaps; for example, Black student graduation rates have plateaued at about 84 percent in recent years. The graduation rate for students with disabilities was significantly lower, at 63 percent, but that rate increased from 56 percent the previous year.

Though 20 percent of high school seniors are currently not on track to graduate, DeWitt said the district has enough time — a semester and summer — to reach a similarly high overall graduation rate this year.

To address the need for learning recovery, the district plans to offer an in-person summer program for four hours a day for elementary school students, which will be paired with some hours of online learning.

On-campus, half-day summer programs also will be offered for middle and high school students, which may include field experiences such as internships.

In addition, the district will offer a six-week online credit recovery program for high school students through its virtual school, iHigh.

There also will be community in-person summer enrichment programs that will be free to San Diego Unified students.

Summer school will be optional and priority will be given to students struggling academically, though Superintendent Cindy Marten said the district wants to make summer school available to all students who want it.

In addition to addressing academics, board members emphasized the need for schools to provide social-emotional recovery for students, especially those who may have anxiety returning to campus for the first time in more than a year.

San Diego Unified has been closed to regular in-person instruction since the pandemic took hold last March, but it has been giving limited in-person services to thousands of students with high academic and social needs since October, including appointment-based learning and learning labs, which are supervised classrooms where students can do their schoolwork.

The district’s participation in onsite services has increased from about 1,900 on Dec. 1 to 6,400 as of March 5, the district reported.

The district plans to reopen the week of April 12, but that date is contingent on the county reaching the less-restrictive red tier of the state’s coronavirus risk framework and on school staff having the chance to be fully vaccinated.

San Diego County has not made it to the red tier yet but might reach it as soon as next week. ◆