02 Nov

One Seattle Parent: Making a Non-Political Case for Charter Schools

Maxxon and Mama

By Linda Sikora

The issue of charter schools is our state’s newest political hotbed – if you’re “for” charters, you must be Republican and anti-teacher/anti-union, and if you’re “for” public schools, well then of course you’re Democrat and most assuredly can’t support charters.

All the rhetoric, all the vitriol, all the heated arguments supporting “your side” and demonizing the “other side” and all we do is stay locked in our positions and nothing ever happens, no positive change ensues – how could it?

I don’t claim to be particularly political; in fact, I consider myself to be pretty politically fluid as I’m willing to listen to both “sides” and settle where my inner sense guides me.  Sometimes it’s “left”, sometimes it’s “right”, but it’s always right…for me. I find it oddly curious how we divide ourselves, and I often just sit back and observe the antics, wondering what a different way could look like.

And I certainly don’t consider myself to be an education expert or even well-versed in the issues.  But you know what?  I support charter schools and here’s why.  No “side” convinced me, the children did.  I sat and listened and looked in their eyes, and I knew this is the kind of change our children need.  I visited Summit Sierra High School, a charter school in the Chinatown International District that opened this year and is serving its inaugural ninth grade class; a school that in its infancy, is wondering if its doors will be shuttered and their children thrown to the wind.  Sure, we sat and listened to the administrators talk about their advantages and their approach; of course they would toot their own horns.  But then we got to go into the classrooms and observe and sit with the children and ask questions and talk with them.  In each classroom, I observed a microcosm of our planet, beautifully diverse, with small groups of these children within the classroom context, communicating, brainstorming, working together and collaborating.

But the “ah-ha” moment for me was in Spanish class when I was talking to two of the students who were working on their project together.  The boy was effervescent and outgoing and telling me great things about this class and how they worked and how it was different.  His project partner, a girl, was very quiet and hesitant to speak, eyes downcast.  I asked her how this school was different.  And she looked me right in the eye and her eyes lit up, she engaged and she started talking to me about MATH.  How, in her old school she was so far behind and the teacher would just stand up in front of the class and lecture and then give you tests, which she failed, but she didn’t know how to understand it or improve.  And then when she came to Summit, her teacher and her mentor (yes, each child at Summit has a mentor they work with on individualized learning plans – and this mentor stays with them until they graduate) worked with her and they discovered that she learned differently than the other kids, so instead of teaching her one way that was not her way, they allowed her to learn in her own way.  They taught to that specific child.  And guess what?  She said she’s now ahead in math, but more importantly, she told me she used to hate going to school, but now she wakes up every morning and can’t wait to go!

I know there are funding issues and administration issues and legislative issues and union issues…all the “yeah buts” that people stake their positions on so vehemently.  Here’s my “yeah but” – I wish we could channel that passion differently, I wish the “opposed” people could have the experience I had today…to see a child’s eyes light up and watch her confidence emerge.  It was one of those soft, seminal moments in my life. In that moment, I knew this child’s life, her trajectory, could completely change.  Sometimes, the biggest changes start small – one child at a time, one school at a time.  We can figure this out, people.

Please don’t close these schools.


28 Oct

Prospective parents and students “amazed” during classroom tour of Summit Sierra

Summit Sierra High School opened its doors to curious parents and students on Wednesday, giving a firsthand look at life inside a public charter school.

“I’m blown away by what I’m seeing here,” said parent Linda Sikora, who is hoping to send her now fifth grader to Summit Atlas Middle School in 2016. “This is what education should look like – students learning together, mentorship from the teachers. I’m amazed.”

About 30 parents and students toured the school, hearing from administrators, students and current parents, as well as touring classrooms.

Sikora quizzed students in a Spanish class about what they like about Summit. Student Jaleen Hunt told her that before coming to Summit, she thought she was “just bad at math.” But then she learned a new way to look at math.

“I started to think maybe I can do it, I just need to learn it a different way,” the ninth-grader said. “I’m not behind anymore.”

Parents said they are eager to have the choice of public charter schools, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in September finding them “unconstitutional.” Many pointed to the small classroom sizes, the one-on-one mentorship and the ability to quickly track their students’ progress online as major incentives to join the Summit community.

Djuna Schuerholz-Wright, a current eighth grader on Vashon Island, toured the school with her mother. They are considering applying to enroll in Summit Atlas for the 2016-17 school year.

“I really like what I saw today, I like that there was some reason behind what everyone was learning, not just memorizing,” she said. “I love how open and colorful the building is.”

Summit Public Schools is moving forward with opening its middle and high school in West Seattle, and they remain hopeful that the state will find a way to keep public charter schools open and thriving, said Jen Wickens, Chief Regional Officer for Summit.

“We remain hopeful and committed,” Wickens said. “We created history in Washington state. We have an opportunity for our state to stand up and be courageous.”

26 Oct

Why Charter Schools are Worth Saving by Ella Finkle-Weaver

Why Charter Schools are Worth Saving

As a founding 9th grader at the new charter high school, Summit Sierra in the International District, I couldn’t agree more with Why Charter Schools are Worth Saving (September 8th). I have never felt so welcomed and important in a community as fast as I have at Summit Sierra. I am also getting the one-on-one attention I need to succeed academically. It is such a stark contrast to my experience at Madison Middle School, where I felt invisible and got C’s and D’s. I am devastated to hear that my new school is ruled unconstitutional. It is unfair that the Washington State Supreme Court is taking away a school that is finally meeting my educational, social and creative needs. At Summit Sierra I’m not afraid to share my ideas or say what I’m thinking, it’s a safe environment. It may not sound like much, but I know that this school is going to set my future up for success. I hope I don’t lose this opportunity.

Ella Finkle-Weaver, 9th grade founder, Summit Sierra

24 Oct

Parent Letter to Rep. Pettigrew by Lynn Gilliland

Hi Rep. Pettigrew,

I was at the meeting last week at Summit Sierra and didn’t get an opportunity to personally come over and give you a big hug for understanding the great need for educational alternatives for students!! I am a mom and my youngest daughter attends Summit Sierra. Since first grade, school has been a struggle for her. Thank goodness she has great social skills and is very bright! We have dealt with tears, major anxiety, feeling stupid, drained by frustration and daily dreading to go to school. It has been emotionally exhausting!! We sadly watched as many of her classmates with similar struggles gave up hope. We were constantly trying to combat her experience with teacher meetings, resource room time, accommodations, huge amounts of private tutoring, private school, activities and searching for answers. People are always shocked to hear that Seattle’s on time high school rate is around 70%. I’m not!! We are leaving 30% of children without an opportunity for a quality education. That fact keeps me up at night. All children deserve hope and a free, quality education that meets their needs.

When I discovered Summit Public School would be opening a high school in Seattle I was thrilled!! Our daughter would have a quality alternative that was all about the child and another choice of ultimately where she would attend high school. She loves her school!! It is so fun to see her bright eyes and smile return as we have watched her soar this year!!! The support and education is nothing that is currently available in Seattle at this time free or private! They truly can teach all children to learn and are passionate about all the children. I think it is probably the most diverse school in Washington.

All children deserve a free, quality education that meets their needs. Education should be about the child, not just about the adults! We have much to gain for our children by providing viable alternatives. Thank you so much for thinking of the rest of Seattle’s children as your own and wanting only the best for each one! I will always be grateful for you by sticking out your neck and truly standing up for these children!!! Let’s continue to produce hope for all children for a great education from our school system. These students can go on to become productive citizens and upstanding members of our society. Truly, is there a greater savings for Washington’s future?

If there is anyway I can be of assistance to you in helping people understand what a tremendous need charters fill for our children, I would be glad to help. Thank you for bringing hope to many students! Since I have been in the trenches heading upstream trying to provide my daughter with a quality education, I deeply understand what a long term and positive impact charters will have on Seattle and our state! Thank you again for your amazing service and courage! I applaud you.

Lynn Gilliland

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