One Family's Charter School Story: 'It is wonderful to see our daughter flourishing'

By Lynn Gilliland

Seattle public schools face a 30 percent dropout rate, yet the leaders of our teachers unions, our school boards and our legislative committees fight to maintain the status quo.

For youth of color and low-income youth, against whom the deck of systemic racism is stacked, the dropout rate is even greater. The rate of discipline is even greater. The implicit and explicit bias is even greater, and far more damaging. The opportunities and expectations, meanwhile, are much lower than their more affluent, privileged peers.

As data comes in, it is amazing what charter schools across the state are accomplishing with their students. Charter schools in our state are successfully bridging the opportunity gap with their students. They are providing a place where not only can students like my daughter succeed with learning differences, but where all student have an opportunity to experience academic success.

Our Story

Our daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was in first grade. The principal at our elementary school said she was the only dyslexic student in the school, even though as much as 20 percent of the population struggles with language-based learning challenges like dyslexia.

Our education journey navigating successful learning with dyslexia had begun. Fortunately, we had resources to get our daughter private help. Many families don’t, and they are left to face this journey alone in a school system that can’t meet their needs.

There have been many bumps in the road as we tried different tutoring methods and IEP implementations, and faced anxiety and educators who were not trained to deal with students that learn differently. It was truly a hot mess that I could not believe people were so quiet about!

After my daughter declared she was dropping out of seventh grade, we found a solution for eighth grade. She took her core classes at a private school with a one-teacher-to-one-student ratio, and I drove her to her public middle school in Seattle to join her friends for lunch, electives and the bus ride home.

She really cherished her friends but needed a different educational model to learn. This would not be sustainable for four more years, however. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to find an education model for high school that encouraged my daughters amazing social skills, leadership skills, and out-of-the-box thinking while keeping her engaged and free from disruptive anxiety.

Finding Summit Sierra

One afternoon as I was sorting the mail, I noticed a flyer for Summit public charter schools. I put it aside to research because I was desperate for education solutions.

As I researched Summit, it sounded too good to be true. However, as I dug deeper (attending an information session, meeting with the principal and flying down to see a couple of Summit schools in California), I knew we had a golden nugget in education!

Summit Sierra has been an amazing solution for our family. Our daughter is thriving and loves school! Summit’s mission is to teach all students to learn and they certainly have figured it out well. It is a unique model, putting the students first when making decisions.

As the kids in our carpool shared, all teachers care deeply. Students are assigned teacher mentors and groups that will remain through graduation. Their mentor group becomes like a family. Personalized learning plans allow each student to learn at their own pace. Project-based learning makes each topic relevant and interesting.

This is a social justice movement. The school is very diverse, yet they have in place the platforms to allow students to get to know each other individually and understand how each person has his or her own story, that each culture provides a lens through which to view the world.

They are teaching students how to truly collaborate with others — all others — and come together as a community.

We are so thankful for Summit Sierra charter school in the International District. Every night I think about the group of parents and Stanford University professors who had this vision more than 15 years ago and collaborated together to make this school model a reality. It is wonderful to see our daughter flourishing.