Inside Summit's Mission to Redesign Schools

PK-12 School Models

Inside Summit's Mission to Redesign Schools

By Diane Tavenner     Apr 7, 2015

Inside Summit's Mission to Redesign Schools

Editor's Note: With the vast array of schools and districts out there, it's impossible for educators to travel from place to place, gathering edtech best practices and tidbits along the way. So, EdSurge is bringing the tour to you.

We'll feature a three-part series each month on a school or district. We'll ask administrators, teachers, and students to share an insider's perspective on how their system works--and peer deep into tech stacks, professional development, family engagement practices and more. This month, we kick off the series with an article about California-based charter system, Summit Public Schools, in which CEO Diane Tavenner focuses on Summit's mission and values.

Got opinions on who should be part of our exploration? Drop us a note!

Sofie wakes up at 5:30 every morning to drive an hour and a half to Summit Tahoma, one of our nine Summit schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she stays late for softball practice, student government and peer tutoring. After her drive home, which is often more than two hours in Silicon Valley traffic, Sofie balances studying, tutoring her two younger brothers and helping out around the house. Sofie’s parents immigrated to America when she was nine to give her this opportunity. As the first in her family to go to college, Sofie wants to set an example for her younger brothers so that they, too, can follow in her footsteps.

So why does Sofie do this? Because as a nation, we made a promise to Sofie and all children across America’s 20,000 public middle and high schools: Do well in school and you will graduate from college, secure a well-paying job and achieve success and prosperity.

However, our world is dramatically different than it was when our public school system was born over 100 years ago. Our country’s schools are still modeled after the traditional “factory” school design from our industrial days in the early 20th century. And yet employers today demand college graduates who are highly skilled at working in teams, thinking critically, solving complex problems, planning and prioritizing work and communicating effectively – in short, graduates with 21st century skills.

Where Summit Endeavors to Change the Game

Our children need schools that put them in the driver’s seat, equipping them with the powerful and enduring skills necessary for success in the 21st century workforce. They deserve schools that are designed to prepare them for the demands of our more diverse, connected and ever-changing world.

We spent the last four years at Summit reimagining what school should be, ultimately creating a richer learning experience that empowers every child to realize his or her highest potential. We start by:

  • Connecting our students’ long-term goals and aspirations to their daily decisions, actions and behaviors. Our students plan, organize and prioritize their work in their Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) based on their individual needs and goals.
  • Engaging our students throughout their Summit career (grades 6-12) in 197 deeper learning projects, where they apply content to solve authentic problems, work in teams, develop strong communication skills and think critically.
  • Allowing our students to work at their own pace and demonstrate competency in content knowledge through 600 teacher-created playlists and assessments, peer-to-peer tutoring and 1:1 coaching.
  • Empowering our students with the skills to become self-directed learners, helping them to develop the habits that lead to academic and personal success. Our students spend at least six hours a week setting goals, making plans and reflecting on their growth.
  • Nurturing a community of learners, where our students practice and model life skills and receive rich feedback from their teachers and peers to individually grow and thrive. Our teachers dedicate at least 200 hours during the school year to mentoring and coaching students in their Habits of Success through 1:1 mentor check-ins, Community Time and more.

Sofie, along with every Summit student, has a mentor (every Summit teacher also serves as a mentor) who has been her coach and advocate over the last four years. Sofie’s mentor meets with her weekly, helping her understand how she learns best while coaching her through setting goals and making plans to achieve them. Today, Sofie’s hard work has paid off and she has already been accepted into her dream college. At Summit Tahoma alone, 96% of her classmates have been accepted into at least one four-year college.

Spreading the Love

We started Summit Public Schools over a decade ago for students like Sofie, but our mission extends beyond our own schools. We also hold ourselves accountable to our peers - both district and charter - across the country. We actively share and collaborate so that together we can better serve America’s 20,000 middle and public high school students.

Just this year alone, we will be able to make our academic program, tools and systems (most importantly, our Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) tool) available for free to partner schools across the country. We are also partnering with Teach for America Bay Area this summer, directly providing over 100 incoming Corps Members with robust training and professional development to ready them for their classrooms in the fall. And lastly, we will continue to keep our doors open to our peers, hosting visits, tours and in-depth (free) consultancies.

Next week, we will share with you a Day in the Life of a Summit Student. In the meantime, reach out to us at or explore our website for more information.

Diane Tavenner is the Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools. She founded Summit's flagship school, Summit Preparatory Charter High School, in 2003, quickly earning the reputation as one of the best public high schools in the nation, according to national rankings by Newsweek and US News & World Report.

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