Welcome to ‘Miss T’s’ school

Lawrence summer classes seek to boost student success


Summer school Principal Anastasia Tzortzatos, who’s known as “Miss T,” patrols Lawrence High School with a walkie-talkie, which allows rapid communication with her staff, and has a quick smile for any of the 300 students who need a dose of support.

Tzortzatos, a 10-year veteran of the district who teaches English as a Second Language in the high school, oversees 21 instructors teaching 28 summer school courses in math, English, social studies and science through the middle of August.

Funded by $265,000 in grant money from the State Education Department and the federal government, Lawrence’s summer school offers students an opportunity to catch up academically by repeating a class or retaking a Regents exam they failed, or to get ahead by taking Advanced Placement prep courses.

In a cost-saving measure two years ago, the district eliminated the traditional summer school and implemented an online study program, but this year it brought back the traditional format. “We saw the online instruction was effective for some students, but not effective for all students,” explained Superintendent Gary Schall, adding that regular summer school works better for more students.

There are half-hour and hour-long classes from 8 a.m. to noon. Teachers stay late for students who need extra help, said Tzortzatos, who begins her day between 6:30 and 7 a.m. in order to complete the required paperwork. “Kids need summer school, a lot of support and someone to talk to, [and] the kids say I’m easy to talk to,” she said. “For the teachers, they have someone who has been through it … I feel it’s worthwhile.”

The challenge for teachers is to squeeze a school year’s worth of material into six weeks. “You condense best as possible and teach what’s on the [Regents],” said Frank Zangari, a Lawrence High social studies teacher with 11 years’ experience who graduated from the district in 1998. “Most kids understand this is their last best opportunity [to pass], and you have to understand what their needs are.”

Improved concentration is helping senior Rafael Figueroa as he retakes English 10, he said. “I’m doing better than I did in regular class — I’m more focused,” said Rafael, who credited teacher Danielle Adams with making the class fun and using her life experiences as part of the instruction. “I’m doing what I need to do to graduate. I’m on the right track.”

“My goal is getting ahead and keeping my grades up to play football,” said senior Elijah Jones, who is taking a government and economics class.

To increase the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses, the district is using a College Board program called SpringBoard to prepare them. The program, which is designed to align with the Common Core State Standards — a set of educational requirements agreed on by the State Education Department that students must attain — provides teachers with activities to teach problem-solving and critical analysis and to engage students in discussion. Schall said that the SpringBoard program will be used during the coming school year for ninth grade ELA and math, at a cost of $38,000.

In Lisa Santisteban’s eighth- and ninth-grade ELA class, students applied the SpringBoard program to learn about persuasive ideas. “The students are coming up with their own ideas and supporting them, then they see similarities in the information using newspapers and other materials,” explained Santisteban, who graduated from Lawrence High in 2006 and has substituted in the district. A Meadowmere Park native, she is now a Woodmere resident.

Projects focusing on perception were created by students in Nathalie Nelson’s A.P. English prep class for 11th- and 12-graders. “The students did research on their topics, created a storyboard, wrote stories on different aspects of their issue, then connected images to their thesis,” Nelson said.

Government corruption was the topic of junior Kahlan Wright’s project. He divided his work into six sections, including ones on bribery, nepotism and electoral fraud. What did he learn? “You don’t know what the truth is,” Wright said.

Summer school students appear to be benefiting from the time they are putting in. “Now I know how to write a better paragraph and a better essay,” said senior John Valle, who is taking English 11 to accelerate his academic progress.

“I’m focused more and a better note taker,” said senior Nadiym Jones, a cousin of Elijah Jones’s. “Hopefully I’ll pass the [English] Regents on August 13.”

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