Nestled in an inconspicuous cul de sac, still packed in approximately 200 interested students and parents at its second Open House Wednesday night.
Since its founding in 2003, Summit Prep has received national attention after the documentary “Waiting for Superman” that has transformed the way public schools are teaching students. With a nearly perfect graduation rate, 96 percent of students ready to attend a four-year college upon graduation, and one of the nationwide, education experts and analysts wanted to uncover the secret to Summit’s success.
But locally, parents and students simply view Summit and its sister charter school, , as an unparalleled opportunity to receive an education in which readiness for college is almost guaranteed. After the first open house, 160 students already entered the lottery to enroll in Summit, far more than the allowed 100 students per grade.
Every Child Can Succeed
Regardless of socioeconomic status, middle school attended, special needs or previous academic performance, every student who enters the lottery has an equal chance of attending Summit and Everest. However, the bylaws will change to give preference to faculty’s students, according to Executive Director Todd Dickson.
Students’ names are actually drawn from a hat to determine who gets into the schools, with proven statistics of success.
But intangible aspects of the Summit Prep cannot be quantified in a percent. For every 18 students, there is one mentor who does more than academic guidance. These mentors address any family problems at home, like if a parent needs help finding a job. They also support the students by attending their quinceañeras or even at parole hearings, said Principal Brian Johnson.
Teachers are similarly clamoring for a spot Summit and Everest: over 500 applicants applied for nine open spots at Summit. To narrow down the multitude of candidates, Summit focuses on candidates who will never make excuses for their students not succeeding. Dickson said they look at applicants’ character, their positivity and optimism.
“Every teacher has a sense of ownership,” Dickson said. “They feel personally responsible for students’ learning, and they never make an excuse for students not being able to learn.”
Every Summit and Everest student also has a personalized learning plan, an individualized focus that most high schools do not have the capacity to do. This has made the charter schools popular amongst parents with students who have special needs or learning complications. At Summit, 20 percent of 9th graders are on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), which is more commonly at 10 percent at traditional public schools.
“We’ve found that Summit is a good fit for these students who have mild to moderate special needs,” Johnson said, based on feedback from middle school counselors he had spoke to. This also fits in with Summit’s philosophy that all children can succeed despite other factors.
Working with the Sequoia Union High School District
The two charter schools have been working with the district to establish a more communicative relationship, more than an annual report that Executive Director Todd Dickson presented at the Oct. 26 district board meeting.
Dickson said that new Superintendent Jim Lianides, who came on board in July 2010, has been more open to working with the two charter schools.
A recent situation that narrowly avoided a violation of the district’s agreement with the charter schools was regarding the use of its athletic fields. The district’s schools have priority of the fields, then the charter schools, then the community at large.
The school had rented space to a youth community basketball team before allowing the charter schools use it, a miscommunication that was immediately reconciled.
And with two new school board members, Summit’s directors have already reached out to Allen Weiner and Carrie Du Bois to establish a constant relationship.
Do the Same with Less Funding
Though the charter schools have budgeted for the much-predicted state cuts, it still only receives 60 percent of the funding that the traditional high schools do.
“We just have to do the same with less,” Dickson said. “And we don’t make that an excuse.”
Like all organizations, Summit and Everest are constantly thinking of fundraising. Its education foundation, primarily composed of parents, is constant fundraising, but the board is looking towards other funding avenues as well.
With generous deep-pocketed donors like Meg Whitman, who , Summit is keeping its eye on big-time executives in Silicon Valley. They’re also relying on boardmembers to fundraise as well, posing possibilities like requiring each of the 10 board members to raise $10,000.
At the Nov. 16 board meeting, the possibility of a bond was even floated into the discussion.
Along with focusing on funding disparities, Summit and Everest must also do more community outreach, a goal that the Board of Directors has emphasized. These priorities resemble a business more than an educational institution, but is an inherent necessity of any charter school.
Though the relationship between the high school district and the schools appears on the ascent, fostering relationships with community leaders and residents is crucial, Dickson said. Meetings with the Mayor of Nashville and State Senator Joe Simitian constantly fill up his calendar.
But with quantifiable success consistently reported, the numbers may be all the publicity the schools need.