23 Nov

Making core subjects relevant to students: the Summit classroom experience

Kylie-Ford-300x524By Kylie Ford, Summit Olympus biology teacher

Growing up, I loved science. My plan was to go to medical school and become a doctor.

But during my college years, I had summer jobs tutoring other students and serving as a mentor in science programs. I decided to get my Masters in Education and dedicate my career to teaching kids to love science and to love learning.

After teaching in traditional classrooms, I heard about public charter schools and decided the core values of Summit Public Schools really aligned with my views and philosophy that every kid can go to college. I was thrilled to be one of the inaugural teachers at Summit Olympus in Tacoma this year, teaching 9th graders about biology.

I hear from Tacoma parents and kids that they are so happy to have the option of public charter schools. And I am excited that we have the option to show kids different ways to learn. Our classrooms are not lecture style, with rote memorization. Our students learn through projects and hands-on learning. Public charter schools are not for everyone, but it is great for families to have them as an option.

We also focus not only on what we’re learning, but why. I want to make sure students know that even if a career in the field in science is not their calling, the skills they are learning will help them with multiple career paths. Like how to interpret data, the skill of asking questions – those don’t pertain just to scientists. Giving our kids those real world examples of how the core subject courses matter in their lives now and in their future careers is so important. They can still have a stake in my class. They can relate to and care about it.

We have students who are really flourishing. We have some kids already working above grade level, pushing themselves to do more. And then those kids are turning around and helping mentor their peers in certain subjects. It’s such a collaborative, positive environment.

I see some of our students here in Tacoma really thriving with the help of teacher mentors, with the ability to spend time on self-directed learning, and I can’t believe the Supreme Court would deny our kids this opportunity. We were all shocked with their ruling in September, and I remain hopeful that the legislature will find a way to keep our students in school, learning and preparing for college.

For many of our students, college has not been a part of what they envisioned for their futures.

We just got back from a college visit at the University of Puget Sound. One of our students was asking great questions on the tour and told me later that he always felt that some teachers and adults thought “brown and black kids aren’t supposed to make it out of high school.” But now he’s got a team of people who expect him to go to – and succeed at – college. We set high expectations for our students and they are starting to take on those expectations for themselves.

It is possible. As long as public charter schools stay an option for our families and students in Washington state.

20 Nov

Summit Public Schools: It’s time for our legislators to do what’s right for kids

Thursday afternoon Summit students, families and staff learned on the drive home from Olympia that the state Supreme Court denied both Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s and the Washington State Charter Schools Association’s motions to reconsider the unfair September ruling.

“We are disappointed that our Supreme Court once again did not put students first,” said Jen Wickens, Summit Washington Chief Regional Officer. “However, this does not change our promise to keep our doors open and continue to provide a free, high-quality, personalized high school experience that prepares every student for college.”

During Thursday’s Day of Action in Olympia, more than 400 students, parents and educators from Washington’s public charter schools urged legislators on both sides of the aisle to fix the glitch that allowed the state Supreme Court to rule against the more than 1,100 kids currently enrolled in charter schools. Summit students participated in a civics lesson, toured the Capitol, rallied on the lawn, met with legislators and testified in front of the Senate.

Summit opened its doors to more than 200 ninth graders in Seattle and Tacoma this year as Puget Sound’s first public charter high schools. The plan is to continue to add a grade every year to provide a full four-year high school experience. Summit is continuing to move forward with plans to open a 6-12th grade public charter option in West Seattle in 2016.

“We remain hopeful that our state legislature will ultimately do the right thing for our students,” Wickens said.

For more information: contact Summit Washington Chief Regional Officer, Jen Wickens, at 206-747-0599.

16 Nov

Student Voices – Supreme Court Decision – By Jalen

Dear Washington State Legislature,

As you may know on September 4th 2015 the Washington State Supreme Court issued a ruling that rendered public charter schools “Unconstitutional”. While for some it was a day for celebration and jubilee for many such as myself it was a day of sadness and surprise. Sadness about how a system setup to protect the rights of the people could fail them us so badly.

For a majority of the last 9 years I have attended a local school. While I was there I encountered countless teachers that helped me to become the man I currently am. Whenever I would encounter an obstacle for example not using pencils because I have sensitive ears they gave me an unofficial “IEP” and allowed me to put on headphones during tests to block out the noise so I could do my best. However due to some personal issues I had, I left and transitioned to my neighborhood school.

I like to use the term “you don’t really know what you have until you lose it” with the school I ended up moving to, a district school.  As the weeks progressed after I was enrolled I became less and less excited about going to school. I would sometimes stare aimlessly at the clock waiting for the moment when I could leave. I felt as though I had given up on life and didn’t really know who to turn to. I was just another number in the educational system. As the months went on we realized that the school was not prepared nor willing to help with any assistance or IEP’s either verbal or formal. From the time that we submitted the IEP form in september until the time that I left in March we received no inkling that we had anyone on our side. And that is unacceptable.  

This leads me to Summit Sierra a public charter high school located in the International District. I am going to be honest when I started thinking about going to high school I dreaded the thought of being lost again. When we first met Mrs. Burns I realized things were going to be different. She took the time to individually meet with each of the one hundred and twenty or so students who applied for the school talk about their concerns and their questions and helped them through them. She took the time to memorize our names hobbies and family members.   

I chose Summit Sierra for a myriad of reasons. Including their track record in their California schools and their commitment to diversity. In a recent 2013 – 2014 district school study African Americans make up only 17.9 % of the population yet they account for almost half of all disciplinary action taken against students. Correct me if I am wrong but no parent wants to see their child disciplined unfairly because of their race.

I respectfully ask that the Washington state legislature give students like me a chance for a bright future. In a time and era in which students are required by law to attend school shouldn’t they have a choice? I understand that you as lawmakers are asked of things every day however when the education of our youth is at stake is it not worth our time?  

16 Nov

Student Voices – Supreme Court Decision – By Kai Worley-Flannell

Hello, I am Kai Worley-Flannell, a student currently attending Summit Sierra High School, one of the many public charter schools currently open in Washington state. I chose this school above other potential schooling options, because I felt like it’s learning environment was ideal for me. Other students in the state also deserve to have the choice of where they want to learn.

The public school system does not work for every student, and not every student can afford to go to a private school. At my school, and I’m sure that other public charter schools are like this as well, there is a ton of diversity. People come in all all shapes, sizes, skin colors, cultures, and families. Shouldn’t our schools be just as unique as each one of us?

When I heard the news that public charter schools had been deemed unconstitutional, I was saddened. School for us had been going on for about 2 weeks, and I had already made a few friends. My grades improved because the way the school taught worked for me. Everything was easier to understand, the same went for everyone else they tell me. My friends and I all have been seen as “weird”, but the positive atmosphere provided by the school allowed us a place to fit in. People like me could slip through the cracks if they don’t have somewhere to flourish.

In my school, all incomes are represented somewhere. But their income doesn’t determine the education they receive at Summit Sierra, or at any public charter school. Thanks to public charter schools, all students of all types can choose a place where they can succeed. I even know some people at my school who are the first in their family to go to college.

These public charter schools are revolutionizing the way education happens, and revolutionizing the way that our state functions. Thousands of jobs are out there and more are be created every year, and that’s not including the fact that public charter schools are teaching entrepreneurs who are going to be the spark for the big businesses of the future, but who’s going to do that if we don’t have an adequate workforce ready to fill those positions as Washington’s next big innovators.

I’m not saying that every child is going to be Bill Gates, but with the promise that public charter schools like mine are showing, every child will get the opportunity. What can we do to make this dream a reality? Our schools must stay open, so students like me can continue to flourish. Reinstating the ability for public charter schools to allow choice to every child will be the most important thing that can be done.

The future of education lies in your hands, if we are to succeed in not letting any child be left behind, public charter schools need to stay open so the option of a personalized education can continue to be something that a student has the option to choose. Though many schools exist already, not every student is a fit for every school. Students will always go to school, just like a seed properly nurtured is always going to grow, but it’s up to where you plant it whether it withers and dies or blossoms into a flower.

16 Nov

Student Voices – Supreme Court Decision – By Tatiana


I am Tatiana Villegas,a student at Summit Sierra. As we have all heard there was a ruling that public charter schools were “unconstitutional”, the school I go to, but not only me thousands of students will be kicked out.

Finding out about this school, was an amazing day for me, since I was supposed to go to a huge district school, that I knew I would have struggled in. Knowing that the school was small, and was productive I knew I could succeed in this school.

Once I heard about the ruling I was in shock, I didn’t believe it. I found out from a friend who attends Summit and now he is one of my best friends, after the news I was sad, I made so many new friends, from all over Seattle, and some not even in Seattle. I would probably lose connection with most of the people just from distance.

Going to school after the news broke out, no one could believe it we had a meeting, and as I was sitting with my peers we were not prepared to split up. It’s now been a couple of months after the ruling, and we have all gotten even closer. When I walk into the school in the morning I don’t just see my classmates I see my family. If one person is feeling sad so many people will bet there to comfort them, no matter what because we are a family and we can’t leave one another behind.

It’s kind of funny, going into this school I knew I was going to have a bright future academically, but I never thought I would socially. This school has helped me open up so much, it was so hard for me just to speak up in class when there was a question, or if I needed help; the people at this school, have made me feel more comfortable so that I can speak up for myself.

I’ve had a great experience so far in my first year of high school, and I would love to graduate High School at Summit Sierra with the rest of my fellow Spartans. Legislators, and many other people are the key to solving this problem so please don’t lock me out of a school where i’m achieving social and academic success, and one based on a 100% graduation rate.

16 Nov

Student Voices – Supreme Court Decision – By Svanna

Imagine having your local high school being your only option for school and then that high school is filled with people who don’t want much out of life, hate school, and don’t really want to be there… That’s what I was faced with. Don’t get me wrong the school I would have gone to has a fantastic drama department, but that’s not what I want to do with my life.

When I first heard about Summit I was thrilled, I had gone to a public charter school in 2nd grade back in California and it was my most favorite elementary school I had gone to. Public charter schools have just always worked well for me. So for me to once again go to a public charter school I was stoked. I spent about a month dreaming about the first day of school…

When it was the first day of school I woke up, as happy as can be. I was thrilled to go to school and I hadn’t been this happy about going to school in over two year. When the first day of school came I wanted to cry because I just wanted my summer back. Now I had a different outlook on things. Summer was over and I didn’t care, I just wanted to get to the building and start being a student at Summit Sierra PUBLIC Charter School.

About a month into school is when kids start to lose interest. They have made their new friends, classes start to give out homework, and assign projects. But not me, I still woke up every morning even more thrilled and excited than the last about what the day had in store for me. Now almost three months into school I am still stoked, yeah I hate getting up in the morning, but the moment I get to the school building I am instantly happy because I love this school and the people in it.

When I heard about the ruling I was not happy to say the least and my brain started to panic. I didn’t want to lose my new friends or my school. I instantly started to think of me having to say goodbye to my friends and possibly never seeing them again. We would all be going to different high schools spread throughout the city. I would have to go to a school full of kids who could care less about being there. The thought of having to go to a high school with more than a thousand kids scared me half to death. I feared I wouldn’t do well and would just end up barely passing, not ever going to college, and I would just end up working at McDonalds serving mean high school kids for minimum wage.

When you think about it public and public charter schools have the same bigger goal, to get the graduating class into college. I have two older brothers who are now graduated from high school. One a U.S. Navy Aviation Mechanic, the other going to Seattle Community College both had to struggle their way through public high school due to the fact the teachers did not care about whether or not they went to college. They just wanted them out of high school. Both of them did not even know they were going to be able to graduate till a few days before graduation. I have been here for three months now and we have already set my college goals and am working towards those.

One thing some schools fail to do is tell the kids why they need to know this in life. That is when at least I start to lose interest. Why do I need to know what X is? I’m not gonna need this in life, I just want to be a criminal psychologist. Well so far I have turned in two math projects, we are working on our third one and both of them have used math and applied to everyday life. In science we are now working on ways to reduce electronic-waste in the environment. We learned about a real life issue and we are now using science to try to solve this problem. You don’t do that in a normal public school.

I love my school. It makes me happy and I wake up every morning ready and excited. It would honestly be such a shame to close down public charter schools just because some people don’t like it. It keeps the students engaged and gives people who didn’t have any real hope for college a chance. I hope that when this is all said and done you all can say “I helped to keep those PUBLIC charter schools open”. Thank you all…

16 Nov

Student Voices – Supreme Court Decision – By Queen Johnson

I came to Summit Sierra to become one of the best students, to stay on track and to have a very close connection with all of my teachers. Not be shy anymore to have a voice to speak my mind. And Summit has been nothing but that for me. Summit Sierra has given me the opportunity to set goals and fulfill them to my best. One of the things I love about Summit is that you’re not lonely, you have your peers and your teachers who want nothing but the best for you and love you dearly.

If you are off track and kind of falling behind everyone is there to help you make a plan of how you can stay on track in the future.

When I heard about the ruling I was disappointed in the decision. I thought how could the one school that actually cares about my education be ruled unconstitutional?

Public charter schools are needed because they are nothing like district schools, I went to district schools for 9 years and whenever I would get off track it was up to me to help myself there wasn’t much of getting help from your teachers. Which is the total opposite of Summit. Summit Sierra is my family. And family fights for each other and we plan on fighting for our school.

12 Nov

Let’s stop the fighting and get working to keep public charter schools in the state open

colleen-oliverBy Colleen Oliver

I have been an educator for over 30 years, proudly serving as a teacher, school leader, and administrator in Washington and California, as well supporting educational efforts in Chicago and Memphis. Currently, I serve as the Executive Director of The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation where education is one of our strategic focus areas.

Simply put, my work is in support of equitable access to high-performing schools, where strong and effective school leaders and teachers are given the support and resources to create the conditions necessary for great learning. I am deeply supportive of good traditional public schools and good public charter schools.

Whether you consider yourself a charter school supporter or not, I urge you to come and see the powerful teaching and learning that is occurring at Summit Sierra in the International District of Seattle, and to learn about what students and families may lose if the recent State Supreme Court ruling isn’t reconsidered or legislation sought to overturn the decision.

Summit Public Charter Schools offers a uniquely innovative model with proven results. I studied their approach to personalized and rigorous learning while in California and am seeing it in action now in Washington. Recently our Foundation’s Board of Directors visited Summit Sierra, and when we first walked into the school we recognized that the educational experience is different and special. Everyone and everything speaks to the unrelenting belief that all students can be successful. You can touch, hear, feel and smell it. It’s real. It works. And it’s happening.

From my and our Foundation’s perspective, this is a defining moment for all of us in Washington. As a statewide community, we need to ensure that all families have equitable access to high quality schools, especially families of color and those who live in communities with higher poverty who are often not given access to the same opportunities. I think that by joining together on behalf of students, we can change that dynamic and improve as a state.

It’s hard to deny that traditional public schools don’t work for everyone, particularly those from under-resourced communities. I urge people to be open to other proven possibilities. On behalf of our youth, let’s stop the fighting and get working to keep Summit Sierra and the other public charter schools in the state open.

10 Nov

Parent Letter – Charter School Ruling

This letter appeared in the Northwest Asian Weekly on November 6, 2015

After the recent Washington Supreme Court ruling that said public charter schools were unconstitutional, my family was devastated.

Thank you to the bipartisan group of elected officials – Senators Braun, Fain, Hobbs, Litzow and Mullet and Representatives Clibborn, Magendanz, Pettigrew, Smith and Springer – for standing up for my family by asking the Court to protect our important public school options, including charter schools.

Our child, Clio Hasegawa, was just starting the school year at Summit Sierra here in Seattle, making new friends and bonding with teachers.

Clio has some learning issues and does not do well unless some special attention can be given to her. Without a learning environment that can cater to her needs and a school that can take the time needed to understand her, she would have fallen through the cracks. We feel so fortunate that a school like Summit exists.

In January, the Legislature must take action and fix the law so that my family and every other family can choose the right public school option for our students. (end)

Paul Hasegawa
Pam Stokes


04 Nov

Don’t take away my choice: why we want to be a founding family of Summit Atlas Middle School

By Kaleen Mahoney
West Seattle resident and mom to a 1st grader and 5th graderK photo

I will admit that I didn’t pay much attention to the statewide debate about public charters a few years ago. As a busy mom with two kids, you tend to pay attention when something directly impacts you.

I had no idea how much I would end up caring about the ability to choose a public charter school for my kids until now.

Last month I had the opportunity to tour Summit Sierra high school in the International District. I have never seen a school like this before – it was a breath of fresh air. The bright colors, the open spaces, the collaboration I saw. I felt like I wanted to sit down and start learning. Everyone looked so comfortable and engaged in learning, more like a small college atmosphere.

I want this opportunity for my kids.

And until September, I thought our family would have this option. The Washington State Charter Commission already approved Summit Public Schools to open a new middle and high school in West Seattle – Summit Atlas – starting in 2016. But now with the Supreme Court’s ruling of charter schools unconstitutional, I am left having to fight for the choice of being able to send my kids to a public charter school.

Our ability to attend a public charter school is everything right now. My family needs this choice. I want to support public schools and stay in my community. Summit Atlas will give us that choice.

I want my daughter to experience the one-on-one mentorship that Summit offers. I want to know if she is meeting her goals, and with Summit, I can go online any time to see how my child is doing. I don’t have to wait for a parent-teacher conference to get an update. I want her to learn how to work together with her peers to problem solve. She deserves to have a choice in where she goes to school, and I hope our elected leaders in the state take action to make sure she – and the thousands of other students who seek this option – will have this important choice in their education.

Public charter schools aren’t for everyone. But I know they are a fit for our family. I keep telling other people that they don’t have to agree with charters – that’s fine. Keep your child where they are.  But don’t take away the choice for other families.