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Sunday, October 26, 2014
Welcome to ‘Miss T’s’ school
Lawrence summer classes seek to boost student success
Jeffrey Bessen/Herald
Freshman and sophomores in an Advanced Placement English prep class collaborated on a reading assignment.

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.”

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