29 Jul

Tacoma Charter Public Schools Welcome the Community into their Buildings

Summit Olympus photo

Thank you to the 70+ parents, children, and neighbors who joined us at the Tacoma charter public schools open house last night.

Along with SOAR Academy and Green Dot Destiny Middle School, we opened Summit Olympus High School’s doors and welcomed Tacoma families who are exploring their public school options for the upcoming 2016-17 school year. The event gave potential students, parents and caregivers the opportunity to tour the  school buildings, ask questions, meet school leaders and teachers, and hear the experiences of founding families and students who are returning to Tacoma’s charter public schools for the second year.

All three of Tacoma’s small, personalized and academically rigorous charter public schools head into their second year of operation, each school is growing to serve new grade levels in Fall 2016.

“Last year our founding ninth grade students more than doubled the national average for growth in reading, and more than tripled the average for growth in math, putting Summit Olympus in the top third of schools in the nation in terms of math growth,” * said Jen Wickens, Chief Regional Officer at Summit Public Schools Washington. We are looking forward to building on this progress in year two, as we provide even more Tacoma families with a high-quality, personalized, public education.”

RoQuesia Williams’ son is a founding student at Summit Olympus. She also enrolled her other children at Destiny (growing to 6th-8th grade) and SOAR (growing to K-8th grade) last fall. They will each be returning to their charter public schools for a second year. “My eldest son has grown so much at Summit Olympus. Along with his teachers, he has a fantastic mentor who helps keep him on track with his goals.” Williams emphasized how happy she and her kids have been with their charter schools, and in particular, what a great fit Summit Olympus has been for her son. “I love that his personalized learning plan enables him to work at his own pace, and that he gets to choose how we wants to learn.”

Enrollment is open at Summit Olympus, but space is limited. Enroll today, it takes just five minutes to apply, learn more here.

Read the whole event recap at the Washington State Charter Schools Association’s blog.


*Student growth measured using the nationally normed Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment.

21 Jun

Introducing new faculty – Alex Horowitz, Assistant Director at Summit Olympus

Photo on 6-17-16 at 10.13 AMAfter seeing firsthand the inequity in schools Alex Horowitz’s passion for education was sparked.

“Every single student deserves a high-quality education in a supportive school environment that cares about their development,” Alex said. “I’m focused on equitable education and outcomes for all students.”

Alex will be the new Assistant Director at Summit Olympus where he will bring a strong background in special education and an eye for strong instruction. He forges strong relationships with students and families which helps him find the right supports to ensure all students succeed.

“As an educator my goal is to meet kids where they are,” Alex said.  “Every single student has unique needs and can achieve if the school and teacher serves them well and implements the right supports.”

Alex said part of meeting students where they are is helping them find the learning pace that works best for them. He said this helps him find the right strategy for them and cater the teacher’s instruction.

Alex grew up near the Washington, D.C. area. After graduating college, he taught in traditional public schools and charter public schools in California where most recently he served as Academic Dean at LPS Richmond, a school with 99 percent students of color, 95 percent free or reduced lunch and 98 percent first generation college bound. Under his leadership, LPS Richmond earned a Gold Medal from US News and World Report and was ranked in the top 1 percent of high schools nationwide. In addition, he led the school to drastically increase the number of students enrolled in AP courses, make impressive reading and math growth and significantly improve the rate of students attending four year universities. 

Summit’s history of serving students well, its supportive environment, Tacoma’s diverse community and self directed learning model appealed to Alex. He’s also excited to meet the families and students at Olympus.

“Everyone at Olympus is part of building something really special,” Alex said. “There is limitless possibilities when you’re building a school from the ground up. This is a once in a career opportunity that doesn’t come around often.”

For more information on attending Summit Olympus high school visit summitps.org/schools/washington/summit-olympus. Applying takes just five minutes and there is no entrance requirement or tuition.

21 Jun

Introducing new faculty – Bo Mendez, Ninth Grade Math Teacher at Summit Sierra

IMG_2960While most see math and music as unrelated subjects, they have been an inseparable pair in the life and education of new Summit Sierra faculty member Bo Mendez.

“I think that all disciplines are connected in some way, but especially music and math,” Bo said. “They both involve a similar type of thinking and problem solving to create a song or solve a math equation.”

Prior to joining the Summit faculty, Bo taught Algebra II and precalculus at a high school in Federal Way. He also started and was an advisor of the school’s Rubik’s Cube and video game clubs. Bo is originally from Othello, Washington and is a graduate in music education and math from Central Washington University where he was in an acapela group. Bo, his wife and one year old daughter live in Seattle.

Bo is excited about Summit’s model of personalized learning where students work at their own pace through the curriculum. Bo’s biggest strength is building relationships with students. He finds areas where he can meet students where they are and connect and motivate them to accomplish their goals.

“I’m looking forward to mentoring students and getting to know them on a personal level,” Bo said. “I want to share my story and help build them up and send them off with the skills they will need to succeed in college. I have some really cool things planned for them next year.”

Bo had the opportunity to visit Summit Sierra and talk to the faculty and students. He said he saw a tight knit community and students that were excited to be at school.

“The teachers and faculty know the students and the students have a sense of pride about their school,” Bo said. “Some students said the curriculum is hard, but they like the challenge and are supported by faculty that is constantly giving them feedback on how to improve.”

After visiting Sierra, Bo was also excited about the student art he saw, including self portraits and the technology at the school, which gives students greater access to educational opportunities. He also appreciates the opportunities for students to explore community building, learning from guest speakers and participating in college prep workshops.

“Students can find opportunities that will have a positive impact in their lives, but they need support to see them and take advantage of them,” Bo said. “As a teacher and mentor, my job is to help guide and motivate them so they will have success in the pathway they choose.”

16 Jun

Introducing New Faculty – Emily Aeschliman, physics teacher at Summit Olympus


From companies like Microsoft to Boeing, Washington state is filled with opportunities for students with an education and skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). But, it’s not just computer programmers and engineers that need a strong STEM background. All students benefit from a high quality STEM education.

“Science teaches students skills like critical thinking that help them be successful in other subjects like English and history,” said Emily Aeschliman, a new physics teacher at Summit Olympus.

Emily is originally from California and comes to Summit after teaching chemistry and math and being a teacher coach at public charter schools in Memphis and New Orleans. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and enjoys cooking and running in her free time. She is looking forward to learning more about Tacoma and about the Olympus students’ lives like their favorite places to eat and what they like to do with their family.

Emily is excited to teach physics to sophomores next school year. While she enjoys teaching math, science is her passion. She is especially looking forward to Summit’s project based learning approach that gives students the opportunity to develop deeper thinking and life skills in classes like English, history, math and science.

“I’m working hard to master project based learning,” Emily said. “I want to build a student-centered classroom where students build on skills and knowledge they learn in other classes that will help them have success understanding science concepts.”

Emily develops interactive experiences for students that teaches them to develop hypothesis, write a lab report, understand data and make their own conclusions. She uses data in the classroom to tailor and improve her instruction to meet each student’s needs.

“I’m really happy to be teaching the content I love,” Emily said. “I can’t wait to be in the classroom and help students grow and develop the skills they need to be good scientists and people in the world. ”

13 Jun

Summit Olympus High School students celebrate expedition learning, community partnerships

Outside Summit Olympus, the strawberries are starting to ripen, snap peas are growing and lettuce, kale and brussel sprouts have been planted.

The food growing outside of Tacoma’s first public charter high school was planted by Olympus students and will be picked, cleaned and taken to local homeless shelters to provide needy families with fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Our students wanted to give back and they talked about how they could help the homeless population,” said Lori Markowitz, Executive Director of Youth Ambassadors, one of the many community partners working with Summit Olympus. “The kids brought issues of importance and voted on what they wanted to work on. I’ve been so impressed with the Tacoma students; their passion is just off the charts.”

The school’s urban garden project is just one of the activities taken on by the school’s Active Citizenship course, one of many student-led expedition opportunities that are building strong partnerships between students and the community. The school celebrated these partnerships on Wednesday at the Summit Olympus’ first Celebration of Learning: Expeditions.

Students have about a dozen options to choose from for their Expedition learning, including music and drumming, culinary arts, active citizenship, film and video production, photography, 3D visual arts, beat making/music recording, drama, dance and sports like volleyball and basketball.

“We send a survey to students about expedition options. We’re really trying to make the programs driven by student interests,” says principal Greg Ponikvar. “Then we work with community partners to determine classes. We are so fortunate to have some great partners in Tacoma who are willing to share their expertise and talents with our students, who get to learn in real world settings.”

As part of their school year, Summit Olympus ninth graders have electives in four two-week expedition sessions, where they explore new or existing passions such as culinary arts, drama, music, sports, student leadership, photography, video and film production.

The public charter high school works with community partners to develop expeditions and these electives are driven by student interests – enabling students to explore their passions and get real-world experiences outside of their core subjects.

Summit Olympus ninth grader Skylar Ramirez is participating in the photography and active citizenship expedition courses this year. He has enjoyed the time out of the classroom learning a skill and helping the community. He is part of the group of students who are raising the fruits and vegetables to donate to homeless shelters. They also spent time collecting and packaging medical supplies for Syrian refugees.

“It’s just a really good way to get involved in the school and the larger community,” the 14-year-old said. “We also organized a donation drive and donated more than 900 items to local homeless shelters.”

Skylar said that in addition to the expedition work, he appreciates the one-on-one mentorship time and the ability to work at his own pace. He is working at an advanced level of math and appreciates the “relaxed, but challenging” environment.

Summit Olympus, Tacoma’s first tuition-free public charter high school, opened its doors in fall 2015 to 9th graders. The school is currently accepting 9th and 10th graders for the 2016-17 school year and will roll up to a full four-year high school by the 2018-19 school year. Summit Olympus is part of the larger Summit Public Schools, which also offers a public charter high school in South Seattle and operates eight schools in California.

Summit Olympus High School is a small, diverse school that offers a personalized learning model, where students can work at their own pace, progressing once they’ve shown competency in a subject. In addition, each student is paired with a mentor who helps them set short term and long term goals and check in on progress every week.

For more information on attending this public charter school high school, visit http://summitps.org/schools/washington/summit-olympus.  Applying takes just five minutes and there is no entrance requirement or tuition.

07 Jun

Introducing New Faculty – Rudy Sharar, Physics teacher at Summit Sierra

Largest imageIn college Rudy Sharar was making jump shots for the University of Washington Huskies basketball team. As a new faculty member at Summit Sierra, this fall he can explain the physics behind how a jump shot is made.

“I’m really excited to move back to the area where I’m from and connect with the community there,” Rudy said. “This is a great opportunity to be a part of the founding team at Summit Sierra.”

Rudy is originally from Bainbridge Island, just a short ferry ride from Summit Sierra. He’s a graduate from the University Of Washington, where he walked on to the basketball team that won the Pac-10 tournament.

Prior to joining Summit, Rudy taught for five years as a chemistry and AP chemistry teacher at a public charter school in the Bay Area. Along with physics and chemistry, Rudy has an interest in robotics and computer programing.

“I’ve seen the power of public charter schools,” Rudy said. “We’re a growing school and have the opportunity to build a school from the ground up and show what a public charter school is capable of doing. There is a strong foundation and culture at the school. I’m grateful and lucky to be a part of the future growth.”

Rudy is looking forward to Summit’s personalized learning model and the opportunities students have to learn about technology. He uses his strong background in science and instruction to foster relationships with students and leverage their excitement about what they are learning.

“The faculty and students come from so many different backgrounds,” Rudy said. “We all have so much to learn from each other because everyone brings so much to the table. There is no ceiling or limit to what we can accomplish together.”

03 Jun

Tacoma Weekly – Spending a day in a Summit Olympus High Schoolers’ shoes

There is a great story by Summit Olympus’ own Community Teacher, John Levi in the Tacoma Weekly highlighting a recent shadow day for interested families.

Riley Molt is looking for a new kind of high school experience.

The ninth grader is hoping to make a change next year – he wants to attend a smaller public school that offers a personalized learning model that includes project based learning and a mentoring program.

He recently toured Summit Olympus High School in Tacoma with his mother, Jennifer Ressler. Riley had the chance to spend the morning shadowing another student and learning more about the public charter high school.

“I can’t wait for next year,” Riley said. “I really like the idea of self-directed learning. I’m excited about what I saw.”

Read the whole story and learn about how to attend an open house and enroll at Summit Olympus at the Tacoma Weekly’s website.

31 May

Introducing New Faculty – Jessica Miranda, Operations Manager at Summit Olympus

f1917760When new and returning families visit Summit Olympus next year they’ll be greeted by a new face and with a friendly ¡Hola! or Hello.

“Being able to welcome and communicate to Spanish speaking students and families helps break down barriers and makes them feel welcome,” said Jessica Miranda, a new faculty member at Summit Olympus. “Helping students and families see that this is their school and community is the first step in supporting them to be successful.”

Jessica is bilingual and will join Olympus as its new Operations Manager where she will lead daily site operations and assist with human resources, enrollment, and work to build a positive culture among faculty, students and families.

Jessica was born and raised in east San Jose, California. She brings a strong knowledge of public charter schools and what makes them successful. Jessica has worked in the public charter school sector for more than nine years. She has been with Summit Public Schools for the past six years where she helped start two schools in Sunnyvale, California and supported in a variety of roles, including planning student activities and outreach/enrollment coordination.

She is eager to use her experience developing relationships with students and parents at Olympus. Previously, at a Summit school in Sunnyvale, California she started a Spanish speaking parent group. She hosted monthly meetings that featured workshops to educate parents on how the school operates. It provided an opportunity for families to voice celebrations and challenges.

After Jessica’s first visit to Tacoma she fell in love with the community and felt right at home. She said the area reminds her of where she grew up and that the diversity of the school reminds her of where she went to high school.

“I see huge potential in the school and the community,” Jessica said. “I’m ready to get the ball rolling and am excited to see the great things the school and community will accomplish in the future.”

27 May

Summit Olympus Student is named a “superhero” and given $1,000 to support her work with families in need


Summit Olympus ninth grader Katie Wilton was honored today by The Sidekick Collective, a statewide nonprofit that provides seed funding to high schoolers who give back to their communities.

Katie will receive $1,000 in funding to continue her work helping homeless families. Katie volunteers with the Union Gospel Mission and the Tacoma Rescue Mission. The teenager was surprised by the announcement today, made during a school assembly, where her high school peers, school staff, and Sidekick Collective volunteers celebrated her.

“We have the most amazing students at Summit Olympus High School,” said Greg Ponikvar, executive director at Olympus. ”I’m so proud of Katie and the work she has done giving back to our community. This is what we strive for at Summit Olympus. We are not only making sure our students are prepared to succeed in college, but in citizenship as well.”

Katie has been a powerful example of what courage and empathy look like in a young leader. She works with families in need through a local shelter, throwing surprise birthday parties for homeless youth.

Although new to the Tacoma area where her family is stationed on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, having moved from Texas, being in a new environment hasn’t dissuaded her from being the leader she is clearly becoming, Ponikvar said. Earlier this spring, Katie served as a Senate Page and testified in Olympia in order to persuade the legislature to legalize public charter schools.

Summit Olympus, Tacoma’s first public charter school, opened its doors in fall 2015 to ninth graders. The school is accepting 9th and 10th graders for the 2016-17 school year and will roll up to a full four-year high school by the 2018-19 school year. For more information, visit http://summitps.org/schools/washington/summit-olympus

The Sidekick Collective seeks to identify and invest in the superheroes of tomorrow who are walking the halls of schools today. The non-profit shares their stories to inspire — and be inspired by — a new generation of real-life superheroes for the 21st century. Combining a love of superhero mythology with a venture capitalist model, the non-profit calls this “hero capitalism.”

The Sidekick Collective was founded by 25-year-old Seattle-native Paige Edmiston. This is the nonprofit’s third year of recognizing high school students for their superhero-ism.

“The world needs to invest in young people who think a little differently and have the persistence — and heart — necessary to create real change,” said Founder Paige Edmiston. “We know Katie will go on to make the world a better place. She is already making her Tacoma community a better place. I hope she will continue to inspire others to help those in need and be someone’s superhero.”

Katie did not apply for this recognition. She was nominated without her knowledge by a secret nominator. Each nominee was thoroughly vetted by The Sidekick Collective team for his or her superhero qualities: thinking differently, possessing an exceptionally big heart, having a powerful origin story, and demonstrating incredible courage and fortitude.

In addition to the funding, Katie will receive a very superhero-y framed proclamation inducting her into the Cosmic Hero fold, as well as a mysterious box filled with items to remind her of her heroism in the future, including a Funko superhero bobble head and an album by local nerd-rock band and Comic Con celebrities Kirby Krackle.

13 May

Introducing new faculty – John Levi, Community Teacher at Summit Olympus

John Levi family photoThe historical public charter school movement in Washington state provides an opportunity to close achievement gaps in communities like Tacoma, while helping all students reach their potential.

Nobody knows this more than lifelong Tacoma resident and new Summit Olympus faculty member John Levi. He joins the Summit Olympus faculty as a Community Teacher where he will focus on helping students develop their social and emotional intelligence. John is also the basketball coach and athletic director at the school.

“I’m part of a movement at a special time for my community and school,” John said. “As a teacher I have the opportunity to have a positive impact on students’ lives and be a part of their journey of learning and self development.”

Before joining Summit, John spent eight years working on the eastside of Tacoma as a youth pastor and a site coordinator at an elementary school where he coordinated after school programs. He attended Tacoma Community College and has a degree in social sciences with an emphasis on people, culture and institutions from The Evergreen State College.

Through his experience working and living in the community, John has relationships with many of the students attending Olympus and is excited to work with them in an educational setting.

“Tacoma has a super engaged community that has a lot of pride,” John said. “I’m proud to be a part of Olympus and watch our school community continue to grow and thrive.”

He and his family enjoy the small town feel of Tacoma, even though it’s the third largest city in Washington state. They also enjoy Tacoma’s waterfront, outdoor activities, the great places to eat and the unity of the city.

Building a safe space for students, where they feel welcome and have a supportive place to learn how to relate to people in the community and the world is a priority for John. His ability to actively listen and give students honest feedback helps him connect with students and create a safe space that meets their needs.

“I’m really excited to continue to work with the students in my new role with Summit,” John said. “At Summit people are supported and respected and we see the unlimited potential of all our students. We are all in this together and will do anything we can to help them be successful academically, emotionally and personally.”