On November 14, 2013, the Washington Education Innovation Forum featured Summit Public School's Jen Davis Wickens, Chief Regional Officer, Sarah Satinover, Director of Growth, and Diego Arambula, Chief Growth Officer. Summit Public Schools (Summit) is a leader in developing high-quality blended learning systems and currently operates six middle and high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area that consistently rank among the best schools in California. This pioneering charter management organization recently applied for and received authorization to open two charter schools in Washington State. The panel discussed Summit's experiences, how blended learning and their model for educating have evolved, and implications for developing high-quality blended learning models in Washington State.
In this installation of the Innovation Forum series, Summit presented the challenges they continually face as charter operators, and the hard questions they have had to answer in order to develop the successful model they operate today.
Summit’s overarching mission is twofold: to prepare a diverse student body for success in a four-year college or university, and to develop students into exceptional members of society. An integral component of the Summit model is the focus on serving a heterogeneous student population. Summit makes clear that it is not in the business of replicating the schools of the past—rather, they seek to break new ground in creating integrated, dynamic schools that are true to what students will experience both in college and life.
Evidence of Success
To say Summit has had success in implementing its operating model would be an understatement. The Bay Area schools Summit currently operates consistently rank among the best in California. In addition, 100% of Summit kids are prepared to enter four-year colleges and 96% of Summit graduates are accepted to at least one four-year college.
Although Summit has achieved phenomenal success with their students and learning methods, they recognize that more still needs to be accomplished to help all students realize their potential. As a result, Summit is reimagining how learning occurs, what learning looks like in schools, and how to continually and quickly improve what works for students.
In rethinking the way schools should operate, Summit faced several important questions, highlighted below.
1. Who should be at the center of schools—teachers or kids?
Summit decided to make the shift toward a next-generation model, moving from an adult-centered to a student-centered school. The next-generation model operates on the premise that the very first question teachers should ask themselves is, “What does this student need right now, and how do I make sure they get it?”
Summit believes that by allowing teachers to simply be great, they can unleash students’ potential. By framing kids to be at the center of the school, Summit is actually elevating the role of teachers. Teachers will no longer provide standard instruction such as lecturing in front of the classroom; instead they can focus on teaching in high-impact ways, identifying student needs and helping them make better choices.
2. What does it mean to be “college ready?” (the four quadrants of college readiness)
Summit spent a year working with several schools and digging into every piece of research it could find in order to determine what it means to be “college ready.” The charter management organization came to the conclusion that for a student to be successful in life and college, he or she needs to gain exposure to, and acquire competency in, four quadrants: (1) content knowledge to acquire skills; (2) cognitive skills ranging from quantitative reasoning to communication; (3) habits of success such as perseverance, goal setting, and emotional intelligence; and (4) expeditions—real-life experiences that occur outside the classroom and home. Summit then designed its schools to provide students with the means to acquire the four quadrants of knowledge, skills, habits of success, and expeditions, thus ensuring they were “college ready.”
3. What does a student-centered school schedule look like?
Once Summit moved from an adult-centered to a student-centered school model, it needed to confront what the daily schedule would actually look like for students. It found that with the right mix of personalized learning, projects, mentorships, and expeditions, diverse students could thrive and become college ready.
During personalized learning sessions, which occur every school day, students drive their learning toward the acquisition of content. Project time takes place on four school days and is a time for teachers and students to work together on developing analytical, quantitative, writing, and other cognitive skills. On the fifth day of the week, students meet with their mentors (teachers) to work on the core habits of success, while reviewing progress and obstacles, and identifying what the student needs to attain their goals. In addition, on 40 select days throughout the year for one to two weeks at a time, the normal schedule goes out the window. These expedition days enable students to take part in all-day intensive elective courses, or volunteer and job-shadow in order to gauge their interest in a prospective career. The expeditions are a unique and vital part of the schedule, providing students with multiple opportunities to engage with their communities and obtain real-world experiences they would not have access to in a traditional classroom setting.
4. How are we going to teach our students?
Summit sought to teach through personalized learning plans and took the lead in developing a free and open personalized learning tool, Activate Instruction, that connects student goals to behaviors on a daily basis and provides live feedback. Using this learning tool, students can take a diagnostic assessment and receive immediate feedback, allowing schools to move away from the traditional homework and feedback structure. Grades are based on skill and content acquisition, and the instruction format is less rigid—deadlines are not used, which means students can catch up on past projects at any time. It is even possible for students to go on to advanced level coursework when they are passionate about learning a certain subject.
Summit plans for Washington
As Summit reinvents and retools its model, it continues to expand its network of schools. Most recently, the Washington State Charter School Commission announced its authorization of two Summit charter school applications: Summit Sierra and Summit Olympus. Both schools are scheduled to open for the fall 2015 school year and will grow to serve 9th to 12th graders, with Summit Sierra serving the South Seattle region and Summit Olympus serving the Tacoma area. This next chapter proves to be a very exciting one for both Summit Schools and Washington State.
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The Washington Education Innovation Forum is hosted by the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.