23 Sep

Welcome to the new school year and a growing community

By Abigail Cedano, Senior Director of Schools

As the 2016-2017 school year takes off we are thrilled to welcome our new students, families and faculty at Summit Sierra and Olympus. Being new to a community can be challenging and just like our new ninth grade students, I’m also new to the Summit community. Thank you for the warm welcome as I get settled in my new role!

I’m originally from Seattle, my lifelong passion for world-class educational opportunities for all students took me to New York 11 years ago where I was a teacher, assistant principal and founded a public charter school in Brooklyn. While I loved my time in New York, the Pacific Northwest was calling and I was thrilled when charters finally came to Washington! I have seen first hand the power charters can have to give parents options they need to make educational decisions that are best for their child. I was thrilled when offered the opportunity to join Summit and have the ability to support this movement in my home state.

I joined Summit Public Schools this year as the Senior Director of Schools. My role is to support our school leaders across the organization as they build beautiful houses of personalized learning. As I am sure you know, our Washington school leaders are phenomenal and it is a privilege to work with them.

I chose to come to Summit because it is an organization that believes every member of the community is an important learner who brings something valuable to the team. I chose to come to Summit because we believe that when every student is treated as a unique learner, students can not only develop strong academics but they can develop into thoughtful, contributing members of society and that will open the doors of possibility for their futures. I chose to come to Summit because I believe in educational innovation and am excited to be on the forefront of education reform.

As we start the school year, our students and faculty are already building strong communities of diverse learners. Our organization-wide faculty team and our schools have already had the opportunity to experience overnight camping trips. This gives us all an opportunity to expand our comfort zones and get to know each other deeply. During our camping trips we share stories about our lives, try out new activities and show off our talents in the culminating talent show!

At the start of the school year the students also reflect on their school experiences and hopes and dreams for the future. They think through how their high-school experience will support these dreams and they go on a college visit so they can see how all their hard work now can lead to amazing opportunities. Each of these experiences lay the foundation for developing vibrant school communities.

The Summit Sierra and Olympus communities are growing. Next year Atlas in White Center will join us as well. Each school has a story to tell and I’m excited to help our students, families and faculty accomplish amazing things, evolve and grow. Just like the Summit Olympus motto, we’re always rising, always together.

24 Aug

Bill Gates writes blog about his Summit Sierra visit

Bill Gates Jr. visited Seattle’s first public charter high school in May, spending time with Summit Sierra High School students and touring the school, which started its second year this month in the Chinatown – International District. We’re are excited to share with you the blog post he wrote and video about his experience visiting our school.  

During his visit, Mr. Gates spent the afternoon with students and teachers experiencing the model and diving into how personalized learning works at Summit. He learned about Summit’s mentorship program, spent time reviewing the Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) platform, walked through the expedition courses, learned how Summit Reads and Summit Solves build students’ reading and math skills,.and unpacked an integrated Humanities project to better understand the day in the life of a Summit student and teacher.

“At its best, personalized learning doesn’t just let students work at their own pace. It puts them in charge of their own academic growth.” – Bill Gates

“I’m so proud of the Summit Sierra students and faculty, many of whom presented to Mr. Gates to demonstrate how personalized learning works at Summit and participated in facilitated discussions with him,” said Jen Wickens, Chief Regional Officer, Summit Washington. “Our community is an incredibly committed and passionate group of educators and young adults who are extremely proud of the amazing school they’ve built together.”

It’s not too late to enroll at Summit Sierra in Seattle or Summit Olympus in Tacoma. Both schools are growing in their second year and are tuition free and state authorized and approved. Applying takes just five minutes and there is no entrance requirement or tuition. Learn more here.

10 Aug

Summit Sierra – Construction Update

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If you have walked by Summit Sierra or drove by on I-5 you may have noticed construction on the south side of the building. We’ve been making some major improvements and we’re excited to share them with you.

Beginning this month we’ll be welcoming new and returning students and expanding to a 9th and 10th grade high school. As a result, we needed to make space to comfortably house all of our students.

We wanted to ensure that our students would continue to have the best and most inspiring school possible, so we enlisted the help of a design team to create new and innovative workspaces for our students.  

To do this, we added an extra 5,700 square feet, including:

  • Nine new classrooms
  • Two outdoor learning areas
  • A deck and two patios with views of Puget Sound and downtown Seattle.
  • Outdoor learning areas for students and a basketball court for students to use during their breaks.

“I can’t wait to see the faces of our new and returning students when they see the new additions to our school,” said Malia Burns, Executive Director at Summit Sierra. “The new Summit Sierra space offers so many areas and opportunities for students to collaborate, learn and bond with their classmates. With breathtaking views from the second story, students will learn and grow in the heart of Seattle.”

During design and construction the Summit Sierra faculty had an opportunity to give their feedback to ensure the new space met the needs of our students. For example, faculty members were consulted early in the design process and proposed a flexible, open learning environment with spaces that could be used for different teaching activities. The faculty also requested large glass garage doors to help connect classroom spaces with the open spaces. 

As the design progressed, faculty, students and families also had the opportunity to give feedback and propose ideas. One of the results of the feedback is the new basketball court, which was added to give the students an outdoor activity to play while being in a city environment.

The contractor also took special measures to ensure that construction had minimal impacts on the students and community.

“We wanted to create and build a positive and inviting learning environment that worked in harmony with Seattle’s Chinatown International District,” said Kevin Brett, project manager at Kirtley Cole the general contractor for the Summit Sierra construction project. “When you walk into the building the success of the design really shows. It has a community feel that I hope the students will hang out in before and after school.”

Summit Sierra is enrolling now. It takes just five minutes to apply, learn more here.

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.