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.