Pinellas County school leaders hope a new voluntary summer school program will help narrow the growing achievement gap among low-income and minority students.
The district hopes to offer the free, six-week course, called "Summer Bridge," to about 12,000 struggling students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
"I think we'll be able to reach a lot of children — more than we've ever been able to so far," said board Chairwoman Carol Cook.
So far, more than 10,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students have been identified as eligible for the program, based on reading assessments, low Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores and end-of-course exam results.
About 5,700 of those students are in elementary schools and already have been invited to participate.
Classes will focus on reading, math and science and some middle-schoolers will be able to participate in other programs geared toward preparing them for high school.
The program will require about 1,250 instructors, compared to last summer's 300.
Superintendent Michael Grego spent last week meeting with members of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association to organize pay schedules for the extra hours many teachers will work to accommodate the program.
Instructors are entitled to their regular hourly rate in the summer, according to the Pinellas County teacher contract.
Grego will discuss the results of the negotiation as well as what it will take to pay for the program, during the school board's monthly workshop Thursday. The negotiations could influence how many students would be able to participate in the program, said school board member Linda Lerner.
According to the Florida Department of Education's 2012 FCAT data, 44 percent of third-graders in the district read below grade level and 52 percent of eight-graders scored below grade level in math.
The district hopes that more than 12,000 students — about 10 percent of the total student population — will take classes in 60 schools across the district this summer, Lerner said. About 700 students participated in the district's third-grade summer reading camps last year.