Hillside School and Learning Center in La Canada Flintridge.

Hillside School and Learning Center in La Canada Flintridge. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer / September 1, 2012)

Two years ago, La Cañada Unified School District's summer school program was on life support, a victim of shrinking state financing for public education. The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation revived it, taking financial responsibility from the cash-strapped district and increasing enrollment.

Meanwhile, a block away from La Cañada High School, the private Hillside School and Learning Center offers a summer school program used by local families for years, with the classroom credits that students earn accepted by La Cañada Unified.

Today, continued acceptance of those credits is in doubt, as the La Cañada Unified school board is expected this month to revisit policy regarding credits earned outside the district. The decision could leave Hillside on the outside.

The debate is nearly two years old. In January 2011, then-La Cañada Unified Supt. Jim Stratton proposed a credit standard based on instructional minutes, or “seat time,” for students. While the foundation’s summer school requires students to spend four hours each day in class, Hillside's classes are generally two hours long and are supplemented by online components.

But Stratton's proposal stalled, and in June of 2012 his successor, Supt. Wendy Sinnette, issued a report suggesting the district allow credits earned elsewhere if the learning institution meets the approval of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, an accrediting agency that evaluates numerous college and school programs.

This month, the school board is expected to consider the policy.

Proponents of an instructional-minutes plan say LCUSD needs to keep its standards high to preserve its reputation as one of the best Two years ago, La Cañada Unified School District's summer school program was on life support, a victim of shrinking state financing for public education. The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation revived it, taking financial responsibility from the cash-strapped district and increasing enrollment.

Meanwhile, a block away from La Cañada High School, the private Hillside School and Learning Center offers a summer school program used by local families for years, with the classroom credits that students earn accepted by La Cañada Unified.

Today, continued acceptance of those credits is in doubt, as the La Cañada Unified school board is expected this month to revisit policy regarding credits earned outside the district. The decision could leave Hillside on the outside.

The debate is nearly two years old. In January 2011, then-La Cañada Unified Supt. Jim Stratton proposed a credit standard based on instructional minutes, or “seat time,” for students. While the foundation’s summer school requires students to spend four hours each day in class, Hillside's classes are generally two hours long and are supplemented by online components.

But Stratton's proposal stalled, and in June of 2012 his successor, Supt. Wendy Sinnette, issued a report suggesting the district allow credits earned elsewhere if the learning institution meets the approval of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, an accrediting agency that evaluates numerous college and school programs.

This month, the school board is expected to consider the policy.

Proponents of an instructional-minutes plan say LCUSD needs to keep its standards high to preserve its reputation as one of the best school districts in California. Opponents of the change say instituting a new standard unnecessarily limits options for local families.

Hillside Executive Director Bob Frank believes the policy debate masks an effort to deliver a competitive edge to the educational foundation's summer school at the expense of his program. Frank, whose school credits have been accepted by La Cañada Unified for at least 15 years, pointed out that his program recently received a positive review from WASC and said no one questioned Hillside's summer program until the foundation took hold of the district's summer schedule.

“When the foundation took over the summer school, all of a sudden we had an issue,” he said.

Jinny Dalbeck, a former La Cañada Unified board member who heads the foundation's summer school program, said the district should do what is in the best interest of students.

“I don't see us as being competition to Hillside, just like Hillside isn't competition to us,” Dalbeck said. “We're too busy looking at our program. We're not looking at other people's programs.”

“We're running what we feel is a quality program,” Dalbeck added. “We're not going to compromise our standards.”

The educational foundation, which this year raised more than $2 million to help pay for LCUSD teacher salaries, the summer school program, technological upgrades and more, has revived the district's summer school.