23 Oct

Parent Letter – Supreme Court ruling fails students and parents, takes away public school choice


By Felicia Hyllested, West Seattle Parent

As a West Seattle family, we are heartbroken and deeply disappointed by the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling that charter schools’ public funding is unconstitutional. This unjust ruling is not only affecting 1,300 students who are currently enrolled in these schools, but also impacting hundreds more like ourselves who were eager for the choice of a public charter school.

Nine years ago we moved to Seattle because we wanted to raise our children in a forward thinking, open-minded city that was culturally diverse and intellectually progressive. We were excited to apply for Summit Public Charter School’s new West Seattle school, set to open in 2016, in particular because of their mission to provide an intentionally diverse student population under a successfully proven educational model.

My kids want to attend a middle school where they have a voice in what and how they learned. We as parents were elated to know that the voters in Washington were acknowledging the need for some type of educational reform — or at the very least more choices for families. And I, as a city of Seattle taxpayer and active parent volunteer in the Seattle Public School system, was excited to see a public school option that was providing an alternative to moving my kids into an overcrowded middle school where they would get lost in the system.

My support and excitement to be a part of the charter school environment has brought with it an overwhelming amount of criticism and backlash from people who have been led to believe that charter schools take money away from the public schools. This is not true. The money follows the children, and the public schools in West Seattle in particular are losing those kids to private schools, the Vashon Islands School District, and homeschooling. These alternative schooling choices are not viable options for most families, especially those who are lower income. The charter school initiative was approved by voters as a public school option, and it is therefore open to the public.

Currently two-thirds of the charter student population comes from low-income families and nearly 70-percent are students of color. Washington voters should be appalled and ashamed to know that an initiative that they passed was revoked potentially displacing these children who were vested and thriving in the charter school environment.

I urge our elected officials to represent these children and do all they can to get this ruling overturned. Something needs to change in regards to our public education, and taking away a positive life-changing opportunity for children who may not have the chance otherwise is simply wrong.

21 Oct

Student Letter to Senator Pedersen, Representative Walkinshaw and Speaker Chopp by Zoe Mitchell

Dear Senator Pedersen, Representative Walkinshaw and Speaker Chopp,

My name is Zoe Mitchell and I am a 9th grader at Summit Sierra Public charter school in Seattle. Last week the legislature ruled that charter schools were unconstitutional and, as a student attending a charter school, I feel very lost in the conversation. In 20 days, if there is not a constitutional amendment, our school will not receive public funding and could possibly close down.

Every student shares the feeling of injustice that this plan was put through without any consideration of our thoughts. This is absurd seeing as how we are the ones who are most affected by this and we feel that our opinions have a lot of weight concerning the matter. We have attended this new high school for more than 3 weeks and by now have established firm relationships with our teachers and peers. All of us students would be devastated if our school were to be closed down. All of us have put so much faith and effort into this school. To see it all go down the drain is despairing and leads to some serious doubts about our government and democracy which is supposed to protect all its people’s wants and needs. Personally, I have had more fun learning here in a few weeks than I’ve ever had at all the time in my public middle school.

Aside from the fact that we students will be losing valuable friendships and connections, we will also have to deal with the transition into a different high school. In 20 days, most Seattle public high schools will have begun and we will be thrust into a totally new situation without any preparation. We will have work to catch up on, because the timing of this ruling is well, mean. Also, without an appeal many of our teachers will be out of a job. Many of the teachers at Summit Sierra moved from out of town just to work with us students, four of whom moved even from a different state.

There also seems to be a lot of complaining about crowded schools. Don’t Charter schools take the pressure off and give children more options? They are a public school and should be considered an equal alternative.

I write this letter to you with the hope that you will take into the consideration the opinions and lives of Charter school students and their community. I don’t want to leave this school so early in my efforts. Please consider coming back together to help us find a solution. 1909 was over a hundred years ago and deciding that a rule made so long ago should affect the education of students in 2015 seems weak. We all need you to be strong.

Thank you for your time.


Zoe Mitchell

19 Oct

Student Letter to Governor Inslee By Kai Worley-Flannell

Dear Governor Inslee,

I know that the Supreme Court has come to the conclusion that charter schools like Summit Sierra are unconstitutional. I believe that despite this, these schools can help us in the long run. This is because of how different these schools operate than the traditional public school. From experience, I can say that Summit Public Schools as well as other charter schools offer different options to students looking for a good education.

Many people believe that these schools are a waste of taxpayer money, but that is not the case. The student body is quite diverse, so it allows people of every race, gender, religion, and income the chance to have an education. Summit Public Schools in California have a 100% graduation rate. This means that all of our students will have the opportunity to go to college. This will benefit everyone here in the great state of Washington because there are going to be 1000s of new kids ready for college when they graduate from charter schools.

Everyone should be able to have an education, and everyone should be able to go to college. If Seattle wants to continue being a fast growing city, it’s going to have make some changes to the school system. Our city and our state needs these schools to make sure this generation and every generation after will have the opportunity to go to college.

The greatest thing about charter schools is that it allows students to reach their full potential. These schools push to make sure each student succeeds in life. The current public schools attempt this, but Summit Public Schools has perfected this. The individualized approach to learning helps prepare students for college by teaching them how to be a self-directed learner. At Summit Sierra, and other Summit Public Schools in Washington, we use a program called the PLP (Personalized Learning Plan), it provides information on what you need to do to get into certain colleges. It also allows us to set goals, check assignments, and lets you work at your own pace. Being able to self-direct your learning is an essential skill in college and when all the students graduate, they will use this skill in the workplace. Being self-directed is great to learn at young age because the earlier you learn, the sooner you can be independent.

When a child first enters a Summit School, they will get a mentor. Their mentor will guide them throughout their years in school. The student and mentor will have a bond form between them and the other mentees. The mentor program lets students have someone to look up to. During the mentor check-ins every Friday, the mentor checks in with his mentees to see how they how they are doing both academically and psychologically. This key piece of the Summit Public School experience of learning, allows each child to feel like they matter.

Every child deserves educational options, every child deserves a way to show their creativity, every child deserves a place to grow, every child deserves to go to college, and most of all: every child deserves a chance to succeed.

Thank you in advance for your consideration,

Kai Worley-Flannell

16 Oct

Parent Letter – Charter schools: No other options for some special-needs students

The following letter appeared in the Seattle Times on October 12, 2015

I am saddened by the Supreme Court decision declaring Summit Sierra and other public charter schools unconstitutional and I urge elected officials to respect the will of the voters — and students and parents — and keep our charter schools open [“Justices, reconsider charter-school ruling,” Opinion, Oct. 9].

My daughter Truth had always struggled with her academics and has had an Individualized Education Program to address her special-education needs since first grade.

Then she went to Summit Sierra Public Charter School. Since attending Summit Sierra, Truth’s confidence and her attitude of wanting to be successful have greatly improved. She gets additional help during the school day and is also staying after school for “office hours” where there is support from her teachers, mentor and the principal.

Closing Summit Sierra would be devastating to Truth and her fellow students. Truth would then have no choice but to return to what didn’t work out in a special-education classroom.

I am a struggling, low-income single mother. I can’t afford to pay for the kind of high-quality, personalized education she is receiving for free at Summit.

I hope and pray elected officials will keep our schools open. Our children should also have the opportunity to succeed and become contributing members of society.

Maria Mirabueno-Callandret, Seattle

15 Oct

Summit Learning Tour – October 28

Summit Public Schools is planning to offer a new middle and high school option at 35th and SW Roxbury in West Seattle to serve your community, starting in 2016.

Want to learn more? We are opening our doors to prospective families to show you what a small, personalized school could look like for your child.

Join us to:

• Participate in classroom tours
• Hear directly from charter school students and parents
• Learn about our vision for a West Seattle middle/high school
• Ask questions about charter schools in Washington
• Find out what you can do to advocate for school choice in your neighborhood

Tour Summit Public School: Sierra

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
9-10:30 a.m.
1025 S. King Street
Seattle, WA 98104

Please RSVP to the event (LINK HERE).

To learn more, contact Principal Greg Ponikvar at gponikvar@summitps.org

14 Oct

Student letter from Casey Thomas

It came as a big surprise on that Friday afternoon, the Friday where I had just left my school smiling and excited for the Labor Day weekend. When I came home and the news finally sunk in, I just didn’t understand. How can it be fair to shut down my school? The same school that has finally made me feel like I fit in after years of struggling, and everyday when I walk in through those doors instantly a smile appears on my face. I know almost all my peers in the entire school and we are all extremely close even after only 3 weeks. What do you call that? Well, that is a real community that we call Summit Sierra.

Here at Summit Sierra public charter school, our teachers have much more time one on one with us and they have created bonds with each student already. Why would anyone take that away from teenagers who already struggle enough developing and dealing with their own problems? Every single student deserves to have this one on one time with their teachers and have this strong community bond where they can come here and instantly feel like they can learn and grow. I haven’t ever been able to share and ask questions in my schools before but at Summit Sierra I am able to raise my hand and speak while feeling confident about my learning and that I won’t be judged. Another thing about our school is we are in the International District so we have so many opportunities to go explore many other cultures at our fingertips after school and already, I have learned so much!

I strongly think that the Washington State Government needs to reconsider the new law because this school and many other charter schools allow students to learn and grow more freely and have a real chance to go to college in their future. I can honestly say I have never been happier at any other school in my life. Summit Sierra is my school, and I can’t imagine Seattle without it. I am a Spartan for life, along with my other graduating classmates of 2019, and we hope that we can all graduate together in our big community.


Casey Thomas

12 Oct

Open Letter to the Washington Supreme Court

As the members of the board of directors of Summit Public Schools in the State of Washington, we were of course highly disappointed by your 6-3 decision last month to shut down Washington charter schools. By going against the will of the voters in our state and courts across the country, it devastated our students, parents and teachers who had already been in our classrooms for weeks.

We want to find a path forward, and that respectfully involves urging you to reconsider your decision.  And to fairly reconsider your decision, you need to understand firsthand the impact of your ruling on the only people that matter: the students.  You need to understand that the kids impacted by your ruling will be denied the education they deserve and so badly want.

If you were to visit our Summit Public Schools in Seattle and Tacoma, you would see mostly low income, students of color in a high quality and intentionally diverse school environment that guides them to success. Every student has a personalized learning plan, and because of this, they are actually enjoying school for the first time and building confidence. These students have mentors that stay with them for four years and are committed to their college success. Our families chose Summit Public Schools because they know it is the best educational environment for their children. These students are embracing learning every day. They are now thinking about college and a successful future, where they used to think those doors were closed to them.  If you were to visit, you might just meet a child who is a future justice on the Washington State Supreme Court.

Your decision to reconsider should not be an issue of politics. The majority of people across the state support public charter schools – it is the will of the voters.  More importantly, it is about the students being served. Nearly two-thirds of the students in our state’s public charter schools are from low-income families and almost 70 percent are students of color. Forcing charter schools to close will disproportionately affect families who turned to public charter schools because their child wasn’t receiving the right kind of support in the traditional schools. Closing charter schools forces these children back into an environment that was not working for them.

It is not fair to say that the right of our kids to a good education should be guided by a decision in 1909 that has zero applicability to today’s teaching methodologies, standards or learning needs.  And to the extent you feel constrained by that 1909 precedent from before the time of civil rights, then look to the State’s general fund for the solution, as did the dissenting justices in your opinion. What else are those funds best used for, if not educating our children, especially those in underserved communities that want the type of education they deserve and need?

So please allow our kids to best use the public funds that are supposed to be for them. Our kids deserve it. We wish you could come to one of our Summit Public Schools to see this for yourselves.


Gordon Empey, Michael Orbino and Mike Galgon
Summit Public Schools of Washington Board of Directors

23 Sep

More than 80 parents, community members and policy makers joined Summit Public Schools today to celebrate Seattle’s first public charter high school

Before an energetic crowd on Wednesday, Summit Sierra ninth graders, parents and educators talked about the first month of school, the community they have built and their disappointment over the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the state charter law is unconstitutional.

Jen Wickens, Summit Washington Chief Regional Officer, said Summit Public Schools, which opened its doors in both Seattle and Tacoma last month, is in the midst of their most historic moment yet. And the school community is ready to fight for their school.

“The families fell in love with their school, the students fell in love with their teachers. They built a community and they now know what it feels like to be in a public charter school and they will fight for that and their voices will be louder,” Wickens said.

Rep. Eric Pettigrew, who championed public charter schools at the state level, addressed the crowd Wednesday. He praised the beautifully remodeled school space in the International District, the diversity of the students and the teaching and learning that was happening in classrooms.

“I see kids from all over the world represented right here. They are all working together and they are excited about one thing – and that’s learning,” Pettigrew said. “Congratulations to all of us for getting to this moment. But we have a lot more work to do. It is a battle, because we are doing something different.”

Diane Tavenner, Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, urged the attendees to help advocate on behalf of Summit students and families to continue to have the choice of public charter schools. She said charter schools have always faced challenges, but they will overcome because students and families deserve the option.

“We always figure out a way to overcome, because you are about to see why we have to – our students,” Tavenner said.” Someone has to do this for these kids who are here today, and for those kids who want to be here in the future.”

Tavenner also said that “being a charter means you have local control and local authority.” She said by giving families a choice in school options, charter schools are held accountable by the entire school community.

Summit Sierra Executive Director Malia Burns led a panel of parents and students, which included a lively discussion about the success of the first month of school.

Jerald Flowers, 14, said he’s looking forward to meeting with his mentor this week to talk about both short-term and long-term goal setting for himself, academically and behaviorally.

“The one thing that really struck me about Summit Sierra is just the general positivity of the school,” Flowers said.

Parent Natalie Hester Johnson said she has already seen the confidence in her daughter grow, including in math and science. She credits the teachers for working with her one-on-one and helping her set her own pace for learning.

“Everyone here wants my daughter to be as successful as my husband and I want her to be,” Hester Johnson said.

What’s next for Summit Public Schools? Educators are appealing the Supreme Court decision and have enough funding for the rest of the school year. They are committed to finding a long-term solution to make sure Summit continues to grow and thrive in the Puget Sound.

13 Aug

Summit Public Schools approved to open 6-12th grade public charter school in West Seattle next fall

West Seattle area students and families will now have another public school choice for middle and high school, after the Washington State Charter School Commission today unanimously approved a new charter for Summit Public Schools.

The West Seattle school will open to an inaugural sixth grade class and ninth grade class in August 2016, eventually rolling up to a full 6-12th grad school over the next four years.

“We are thrilled that West Seattle students and families will now have another public school option,” said Jen Wickens, Summit Washington Chief Regional Officer. “We’ve already seen a lot of interest from families and we look forward to working with the community to grow and develop our school, bringing our strong mentorship program and college-going culture to West Seattle.”

All Summit Public Schools are publicly funded and free to attend. Each Summit Public School’s mission is to ensure that every student has the opportunity to not only attend, but succeed in, a four-year college or university. The West Seattle school is Summit Public Schools’ third location in the Puget Sound. School starts next week for students at Summit Sierra, a 9-12th high school in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, and for Summit Olympus, a 9-12th high school in Tacoma.

Summit has already secured a building for the new West Seattle school through Pacific Charter School Development, which acquired the property at the Southwest corner of 35th and Roxbury. And longtime Summit educator Greg Ponikvar plans to launch the new school and will serve as the principal. He is moving to the community this summer.

“We will spend the next year listening to and talking with West Seattle families and students about how we can best meet their needs,” Ponikvar said. “We will be getting our school ready and recruiting high-quality teachers who follow our philosophy that every student – through mentorship, personalized learning and rigorous academics – can succeed in college.”

For families interested in attending the new public charter school, visit www.summitps.org/apply.

30 Apr

Summit Public Schools Sets New Bar With Over 99 Percent Of Students Accepted To College

Summit Public Schools announced today that for the first time since its inception, at least 99 percent of its high school seniors across all four of Summit’s high schools that are graduating classes this year have been accepted to at least one four-year college.

100 percent of seniors at both of Summit’s San Jose high schools, Summit Rainier and Summit Tahoma, as well as Summit Everest in Redwood City have received acceptances to at least one four-year college. Summit Prep, also of Redwood City, now has 96 percent of its seniors accepted to a four-year college. The San Jose schools were the first to embrace Summit’s innovative personalized learning model that has now been adopted Summitwide. Through this model, students engage in deeper learning projects and are empowered to become self-directed learners, helping them to develop the habits and skills that lead to academic and personal success, including college acceptance.

Summit will celebrate these accomplishments this Friday morning in San Jose at Summit Rainier, and in Redwood City at Summit Everest as well as Summit Prep. Summit students will share their college acceptance as part of the White House’s National College Signing Day on May 1st. Part of the White House and First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative, this day celebrates students getting accepted into college with live events at high schools across the country.

“Earning a four-year college acceptance is an incredibly important achievement that shows just how hard our students have worked to get here,” said Summit founder and CEO Diane Tavenner. “We are so proud of all of our students who have demonstrated that they are college and career ready.”

Many Summit students overcame strong obstacles to reach this point. Nearly half (over 45 percent) of Summit’s graduating seniors will be the first in their family to attend college, another Summit milestone. The majority of Summit students who were accepted into a four-year college also began ninth grade at a Summit school.

Sofia Canela Torres, who will graduate from Summit Tahoma, is bound for Mills College this fall as the first in her family to attend college. Sofia started at Summit Tahoma in ninth grade, quickly becoming involved in the Science Club, Student Council and now as the Senior Class President.

“Even though I will be the first in my family to go to college, I am confident that I will succeed because of all that I learned at Summit, and through everything my teachers at Summit did to prepare me for this next step,” said Torres. “Everyone in my family is so proud of me and we are all so excited for me to start college.”

This announcement comes just one week after two Summit schools were recognized by the Washington Post in their 2015 America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranking. Of all California high schools, Summit Prep came in 30th and Summit Everest came in 53rd overall.