By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Classes won't end in June for hundreds of high school and middle school students learning to speak English.
The school district has received $290,000 from the state for a five-week summer school program for English-language learners — a group that has lagged behind on MCAS scores and kept Haverhill and many other cities from showing improvement on the annual high-stakes exam.
The Haverhill money is part of $3.5 million in Gateway Cities grants announced this week by state officials for "targeted English language instruction and early career education" for students in 12 cities. The Gatway Cities Education Agenda program was started by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2011. Methuen and Lawrence are among those cities receiving money in the latest round of grants — $40,000 each for career training programs.
The grant is the second Haverhill has received from the state in as many months for struggling students. In January, the school district received $335,000 for before- and after-school programs at Consentino School and Tilton and Golden Hill elementary schools.
Superintendent James Scully said the district is the process of developing the summer school program, which he said will be at the high school. The program will emphasize writing skills, but also include mathematics instruction, he said. All English-learner students will be "strongly encouraged" to participate," the superintendent said.
"There's generally a lot of interest in these programs anyway," Scully said. "We expect a high level of participation."
Assistant Superintendent Mary Malone said there are about 600 English learners in kindergarten through grade 12 in Haverhill schools. She said the summer program will also match students with businesses in the community to provide the students with "career readiness skills."
UMass-Lowell, Girls Inc. of Haverhill and Northern Essex Community College are partnering with the school district in the summer school initiative, said Malone, who wrote the grant proposal.
Unlike previous summer school programs in Haverhill, Malone said this one will have full-day classes, most likely from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"Previous summer school programs have started fast, but quickly fizzled out," Scully said. "We're trying to develop strategies to make it sustainable."
Seven or eight years ago, a short-lived mandatory summer school program for failing students was eliminated in a round of budget cuts. In recent years, the district has also offered state-subsidized MCAS tutoring in the summer, but those programs stopped when the state money ran out.
Mayor James Fiorentini, who was behind the old mandatory summer school program, said he is encouraged to see summer school making a comeback here.
"I support summer school and after-school programs because they work," said the mayor, who is also the chairman of the School Committee. "The reason international students do better than American students is simple. They spend more time in class."
Scully said he hopes the mayor will contribute some city money toward the new summer school initiative. Fiorentini was noncommittal.
"The city already provides millions and millions to the schools every year," the mayor said. "We'll consider helping out with this. But I'm hopeful the School Department can develop a successful and sustainable summer program in the school budget."
The Gateway Cities Education Agenda aims to close "persistent achievement gaps that disproportionately affect students living in lower-income communities, students of color, students who are English language learners and students with disabilities in the Commonwealth's 24 Gateway Cities," according to a press release put out by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"The focus of the Gateway Agenda, and our number one priority in education, is creating opportunity for every child in the Commonwealth regardless of his or her background or circumstance," Gov. Patrick said in a press release. "These targeted supports for students will help us close achievement gaps more quickly and ensure that all of our students are prepared for success in the classroom and beyond."
State Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, said the Gateway Cities grants were highly competitive this year.
"I am proud that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recognized Haverhill through this extremely competitive grant as a district that will benefit from this program and a focus on these important skills," he said.
A total of 12 of 24 Gateway Cities received money for English language enrichment academies to be offered in summer, after school, on Saturdays and during April vacation, according to the state's press release.