Summit Public Schools

Summit Public Schools

Organization that runs charter high schools in Redwood City and San Jose in northern California.

Location: San Jose, CA Type: Charter     Founded: 2006
# of Students: 2,100 Grades Served: 6-12  % FRL: 40%


Founded in 2003 in Redwood City by a group of parents, Summit Public Schools was born with a clear mission to prepare every student for college and career success. Since then, the school has kept that mission at the heart of its design throughout years of iteration and change.

After five years serving students at the Redwood City campus, the school began to open new campuses across the Bay Area. As of 2014 Summit Public Schools is home to 2,100 students and seven schools in the Bay Area.

In 2010, after examining data showing that only 55 percent of Summit graduates were on pace to graduate within four years at a university, the school took a hard look at what was happening. While 100 percent of graduating students were eligible for four-year colleges and 96 percent were accepted, the fact that students were not entering college prepared to succeed signaled to Summit that they needed to do something different.

After deep conversations with alumni, the school began to rethink the experience they wanted to deliver to students.

While Summit has always had deep roots in a project-based learning model, the school began to incorporate blended learning. They started with a traditional rotation model in math classes. Students would spend ⅓ of their time with the teacher, ⅓ of their time in a group, and ⅓ of their time on Khan Academy practicing skills.

After two years of regular iteration on their model, they settled on a model centered around student-driven learning. Summit’s current model, as of summer 2014, treats cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and synthesis, differently from academic content skills, such as how to calculate intersecting lines or the timeline for the American Revolution.

Approach to Teaching and Learning

At the heart of Summit’s approach to teaching and learning is the belief that students must be self-directed learners in order to succeed in both college and life. This guides the way they design teaching and learning experiences. These experiences are split up into four different categories: cognitive skills, content knowledge, expeditions, and habits of success.

Instead of teaching content knowledge and cognitive skills (such as inquiry, listening, and analysis) together in one-hour chunks, at Summit, students tackle these separately. Through subject specific projects, students focus on learning cognitive skills. They are then given separate time to tackle playlists of content knowledge associated with that project. Student learn this content in their own ways and at their own pace by utilizing playlists of resources to learn the content on their own.

Students also engage in expeditions for eight weeks a year, where they are immersed in experiences such as internships, visual and performing arts, photography, robotics, and community service. Finally, students also learn habits of success through an intensive mentoring program and also woven throughout learning experiences in the classroom. Through Summit’s mentoring program, students practice and model goal setting, making plans to achieve those goals, and reflecting on their progress.

Approach to Technology

Summit has very intentionally built and chosen tools that specifically enable their mission and vision for what teaching and learning should look like. For that reason, the school uses and even creates their own tools that very intentionally facilitates student-ownership of work. 

Summit is uninterested in using adaptive learning tools that personalize learning for students. Instead, preferring tools that make students actively determine the best path for their learning on their own. Summit wants technology that helps its students build their own capacity to find the material that is right for them, and to learn independently from it.

They also are not afraid to build their own tools to suit their unique needs. For instance, when it wasn’t able to find a tool that allowed their students to track and build their own personal pathways to learn content knowledge, it found an engineer and built its own. When it couldn’t find content organized into playlists around specific subjects, they partnered with the Girard Foundation and Illuminate, an education technology company, to build one.

And finally, when Summit wasn’t able to find a platform where students could track the content they master, projects and progress toward goals, while simultaneously getting ongoing feedback from teachers, so they built their own tool, called the Personalized Learning Platform (PLP). It’s this move that’s gaining them a great deal of attention. By building their own tool to support the school’s model they were able to begin efforts to scale the school’s unique model by going beyond franchising it’s own schools across the country.

Summit is now using its PLP tool influence other school models to follow their lead. In 2014 they opened up an application process for other schools to participate in, allowing them free access to the PLP tool, along with coaching in implementing Summit’s personalized learning model. In 2015, it will open the PLP tool and spread its model to 20 schools across the country, including charter and public schools alike. 

Program Model

Program model: Flex

Clayton Christensen Model Description: Students progress through playlists of online content at their own pace, and teachers provide face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis.

Cognitive skills are learned and evaluated through project based learning in each subject area. Students work together in groups through multi-week projects that lead them through learning and implementing those skills. However, when it comes to learning content skills, such as identifying triangle congruence and defining imperialism, students drive their own learning and pace through a competency based progression of skills. Students are provided with playlists of resources they can use to learn a specific skill. They are then given a digital assessment to prove they acquired that skill. Once they’ve passed that assessment they move onto mastering a new one.

Four days a week, students spend 4-5 periods a day focusing on project based learning in each of their classes, like math, science, english, and history. During project based time students are grouped heterogeneously, and work together on projects that are designed to strengthen and assess their cognitive skills. The teacher’s role is to facilitate these projects and to also evaluate students on the growth of their cognitive skills.

During the last period of the day, students are given free time to work on the growth of their content knowledge independently through playlists and a competency based evaluation system. Once students demonstrate mastery of specific content, they can request to take a digital assessment. If they pass they move onto the next content skill. It is up to them to use this time to go as fast or as slow as they need. Students spend the last day of the week entirely doing independent work. They continue to focus on independently working through playlists, on projects, or meeting with a mentor to discuss goal setting.

Technology Ingredients + Implementation

Recipe For Instruction

Personal Learning Plan Tool (custom built):

  • Who: All Students
  • For What: Assessment, tracking student growth, building personal learning pathways for students, setting personal goals, track content mastery
  • How: Students start on their dashboard where they can track their current projects’ status, which content skills they’ve mastered, and their personal goals. Students can check which knowledge standards they have yet to master for the year, and access the playlist associated with those standard, which directly takes them to Activate Instruction.

The Personalized Learning Plan enables students to drive their own learning so they can track their progress on projects and playlists. Students start on their dashboard where they can track their current projects’ status, which content skills they’ve mastered and their personal goals. Students can check which knowledge standards they have yet to master for the year, and can access teacher-developed playlists and on-demand assessments directly through the PLP tool.


  • Who: All Students
  • For What: Reading Skills
  • How: Students are assigned independent reading through the tool. Across each school students spend 20 minutes doing independent reading each day. The tool is used for students to access their text, and also allows teachers to track their reading goals.

Recipe for Infrastructure


  • Who: Every student; Summit has a 1:1 Chromebook model. Students can not take their device home with them
  • How: Used for every class, to access all their content, learning resources, and assessments. 


  • Who: All Students
  • For What: Tracking student data like attendance and test scores. It is also used to deliver assessments linked from Activate Instruct, and allows teachers to track which content skills students have mastered. 
  • How: Teachers enter data into the platform daily. Students taking assessments on the platform are instantly linked from Activate Instruct onto Illuminate where a random bank of questions is administered to them.

Here's a long report funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation that describes Summit's blended learning model: Summit Public Schools. 

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