Every day at Summit is an experience: Finding myself and fostering independence, by Sumayo Hassan

Every day at Summit is an experience: Finding myself and fostering independence, by Sumayo Hassan

Today’s planet faces many tough challenges. High school has helped me understand that while challenges can be daunting, they can be overcome by hard work and innovation. I’d like to study bioremediation, which is learning how to clean up the environment from toxins that degrade our ecosystem and the organisms that live in them.

One of my most memorable experiences at Summit Sierra was seeing — in real-time — the impact bioremediation can have. We conducted an experiment in science class that demonstrated the process of cleaning up radiation from nuclear fallout where we planted mustard seeds. To see this powerful process in-person reinforced my interest and determination to improve our environment and that it’s possible to work toward a sustainable and more livable planet.

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With opposition fading, charter schools in Washington continue to grow to meet growing demand

With opposition fading, charter schools in Washington continue to grow to meet growing demand

"As we greet a new school year and say goodbye to another summer, I can’t help but notice that the rabid fervor over charter schools in Washington State has mostly flamed out.

At this time last year, everyone was still up in arms. The Washington Education Association had just led the filing of another lawsuit against the charter sector in an effort to maintain its monopoly on free public education.

Our state attorney general had just entered the fray, and the NAACP had issued its first suggestion of a nationwide moratorium on charter schools.

By February of this year, however, a judge had ruled in favor of charter schools, and the several months since have seen them slip — at last — out of the limelight for a moment. "

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Get a firsthand look this week at Summit Atlas, Seattle's newest public charter school

Get a firsthand look this week at Summit Atlas, Seattle's newest public charter school

Summit Public Schools is inviting the entire community to join them in celebrating the official opening of Summit Atlas, their new public charter school in West Seattle.

In addition to a tour of the building, students and families will be on-hand to discuss why they chose Summit Atlas, and the new school's founding principal will be there to answer questions as well.

Lots of folks with lots of different opinions about charters have never actually been inside of one. I think it's a great opportunity for folks to get a firsthand look at what a charter school really looks like and to hear from the real people involved in making it what it is.

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Huge surprise: Washington’s Charter Schools are still under attack — and still plugging away

A coalition of unions, led by the Washington Education Association, is once again pushing to eradicate charter schools in Washington State. That’s nothing new. The WEA has been fighting hard to maintain its monopoly on public school choice across the state for years now.

In fact, it’s been such a long and dogged battle that it’s easy to get lost in the fray. Let’s catch up.

Washington State is currently home to about 1600 charter school students, and plans are in place to open Willow School in Walla Walla next fall, along with a Summit school in West Seattle and a Green Dot middle school in South Seattle.

Everything is on track to continue.

Also set to continue, often seemingly to infinity, is the coordinated opposition to our state’s charter school movement.

What’s all this about unconstitutionality?

The Washington State Supreme Court questioned the constitutionality of charter schools in 2015 based on a technicality around such schools’ oversight. The court’s initial opinion was lifted almost word for word from a document produced by the Washington Education Association (WEA — the state teacher’s union.)

The unconstitutionality loophole was closed last spring through a partnership with the Mary Walker School District near Spokane, which agreed to host the state’s existing charter schools and designate them as Alternative Learning Environments (ALEs).

This action was based on a resolution passed by the district’s board, part of which read, “the District believes that all students should have a choice in their educational program.”

Another key part of last spring’s decision is that funding for the charters in Washington comes from a specially designated lottery fund, which is separate from the pool of money used for public education.

But the saga does not end here! The Charter School Act was challenged again late last summer so the movement remains under fire.

What’s happening with the current lawsuit?

This time around, the plaintiffs have been led in name by El Centro de la Raza, a Seattle-area non-profit that receives grant funding from the WEA, but the case is almost entirely union-driven. Many unions involved have ties to education, but many don’t. Here’s the full list of plaintiffs (unions in bold):

  • El Centro de la Raza
  • Washington Education Association
  • Washington Association of School Administrators
  • International Union of Operating Engineers 609
  • Aerospace Machinists Union DL 751
  • Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Union
  • Washington Federation of State Employees
  • American Federation of Teachers, Washington
  • Teamsters Joint Council No. 28
  • League of Women Voters, Washington State
  • Pat Braman, on her own behalf
  • Donna Boyer, on her own behalf and on behalf of her minor children
  • Sarah Lucas, on her own behalf and on behalf of her minor children

This list is significant because it shows that the WEA views charter schools as a threat to unions, not to education. They are not looking at this through an equity-based, student-first lens, but rather through a lens based on the best interests of teachers and their union as an institution. As a result, the WEA has pulled together a group of unions and of predictably supportive grantees to protect their own self-interest, disregarding the specific needs of the students they serve.

A hearing last November before a courtroom packed full of charter teachers, parents and students saw a slew of procedural decisions, almost all of which fell in favor of charters.

The primary question at hand was, do these unions have standing in this case? Can they even claim they are somehow impacted by the charter law?

The judge struck down most of the plaintiffs as not having taxpayer standing, but left an opening for them to come back with a named party leading the way with a rewritten complaint. They will basically return as individuals representing their unions and organizations.

One claim from suit is that the ALE designation was more workaround than satisfactory solution, and the plaintiffs wanted to make sure the ALE wasn’t an option again. Judge John H. Chun said essentially said he considered this too much supposition and too little substance — that he wouldn’t rule on something that wasn’t presently an issue.

Chun also threw out the plaintiffs’ red-herring claim that charters shouldn’t be funded before we have met the McCleary mandate to fully fund our broader public school system, calling it speculation at best. The state legislature will have to to do something about McCleary no matter what, and charters are unlikely to impact McCleary as the two are funded separately, pulling from separate pots of money.

All of this is building toward another hearing on Jan. 27, 2017, to debate whether charters are constitutional and whether the money funding them is still somehow affecting the common fund. They will argue the meat of the case and the judge will rule. And then we’ll keep on going.

So, the existing handful of charter schools continue to operate, offering much-needed school choice to hundreds of families in different communities. They will keep moving forward as well and keep running good schools. The proof, ultimately, will be in the pudding. Great schools will overcome great opposition in time.

In the meantime, even as the charter school association and its attorneys work to take the burden of this distraction off the schools and their students, the environment created by this union battle axe remains unsettling for all involved. It’s scary for families, nerve-wracking for teachers and administrators. It’s exhausting.

But we will keep on moving. Change isn’t always comfortable, but the status quo won’t do any longer. We need more and better school choices for our students, and we need better outcomes in our traditional schools. If the price for that is being exhausted, so it goes.

Tacoma’s Charter Public Schools to Host Open House Tour for New Families

SOAR AcademyGreen Dot Destiny Middle School and Summit Olympus High School will host a tour of open houses on Thursday, July 28, for Tacoma families exploring their public school options for the upcoming 2016-17 school year.

The tour of open houses will give potential students, parents and caregivers the opportunity to tour each school building, ask questions and meet school leaders and teachers, and hear the experiences of founding families and students who are returning to Tacoma’s charter public schools for the second year.

As all three of Tacoma’s small, personalized and academically rigorous charter public schools head into their second year of operation, each school is growing to serve new grade levels in Fall 2016.

SOAR Academy, which eventually will serve K-8, served K-1 in its first year and will grow to serve K-2 in Fall 2016. Green Dot Destiny Middle School, which served sixth grade in its founding year and will serve grades 6-8 at capacity, is enrolling sixth and seventh grade for Fall 2016. And Summit Olympus High School, which opened to ninth graders in its founding year, is enrolling ninth and tenth graders for this coming school year.

Enrollment is open for Fall 2016 at Tacoma’s charter public schools. All schools are tuition-free and open to all students. For more information: http://wacharters.org/enroll/tacoma/.

WHAT: Tacoma Charter Public Schools Open House Tour

WHEN: Thursday, July 28, 5 – 8:15 p.m.

The open house tour begins at SOAR Academy and then travels to Summit Olympus and Destiny Charter Middle School. Bus transportation will be provided for those attending the full three-school tour, and will return to SOAR Academy at the end of the tour.

5:00 pm: Meet at SOAR Academy, 2136 MLK Jr. Way, Tacoma, WA 98405
5:30—6pm: Tour SOAR Academy
6:30—7pm: Tour Summit Olympus, 409 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, WA 98421
7:30—8pm: Tour Destiny Middle School, 1301 E 34th St, Tacoma, WA 98404
8:00 pm: After the Destiny Middle School tour, participants will be dropped back off at SOAR Academy.

RSVP here. View the Facebook event here.

About Washington’s Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are state-authorized public schools. Like all public schools, they do not charge tuition, they are open to all students, and they are publicly funded. However, charter schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. In exchange for greater accountability, teachers and principals are given more flexibility to customize their teaching methods and curriculum to improve student learning.

Washington’s charter public schools are helping to close the education equity gap. More than 67 percent of charter public school students in Washington are students of color, as compared to 43 percent statewide. Two-thirds of charter public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, as compared to 45 percent statewide. At four of Washington’s charter public schools, this number exceeds 70 percent.

Dear Gov. Inslee: 'When I walk into school in the morning, I see my family'


I am Tatiana Villegas, a student and  future graduate at Summit Sierra.

As we have all heard, there was a ruling that charter schools like mine were “unconstitutional.” Not only me, but thousands of students will be forced to leave the school of their choice.

Finding out about this school was an amazing day for me, since I was supposed to go to a huge public school that I knew I would have struggled in. Knowing that the school was small and was productive, I knew I could succeed in this school.

Once I heard out about the ruling, I was in shock -- I didn't believe it. I found out from a friend who attends Summit, and now he is one of my best friends. After the news I was sad. I had made so many new friends from all over Seattle, and some not even in Seattle. I would probably lose connection with most of the people just from distance.

Going to school after the news broke out, no one could believe it. We had a meeting, and as I was sitting with my peers we were not prepared to split up. It’s now been a couple of months after the ruling, and we have all gotten even closer. When I walk into the school in the morning, I don’t just see my classmates, I see my family. If one person is feeling sad, so many people will be there to comfort them, no matter what, because we are a family and we can’t leave one another behind.

It’s kind of funny. Going into this school I knew I was going to have a bright future academically, but I never thought I would socially. This school has helped me open up so much. It was so hard for me just to speak up in class when there was a question, or if I needed help; the people at this school have made me feel more comfortable so that I can speak up for myself. I've had a great experience so far in my first year of high school, and I would love to graduate from high school at Summit Sierra with the rest of my fellow Spartans. The judges, senators, legislators, and many other people are the key to solving this problem, so please don't lock me out of a school where I'm achieving social and academic success, and one based on a 100% graduation rate.

Dear Gov. Inslee: 'Every Child Deserves a Chance to Succeed'

Dear Gov. Inslee,

I know that the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that charter schools like Summit Sierra are unconstitutional. I believe that despite this, these schools can help us in the long run. This is because of how differently these schools operate than the traditional public school.

From experience, I can say that Summit Public Schools as well as other charter schools offer different options to students looking for a good education. Many people believe that these schools are a waste of taxpayer money, but that is not the case. The student body is quite diverse, so it allows people of every race, gender, religion and income the chance to have a great education.

Summit Public Schools in California have a 100 percent graduation rate. This means that literally all of our students will have the opportunity to go to college. This will benefit everyone here in the great state of Washington because there are going to be thousands of new kids ready for college each year when they graduate from charter schools. Everyone should be able to receive a great education, and everyone should be able to go to college.

If Seattle wants to continue being a fast-growing city, it’s going to have make some changes to the school system. Our city and our state need charter schools to make sure this generation and every generation after will have the opportunity to go to college.

And this is the greatest thing about charter schools: they allow students to reach their full potential. These schools push to make sure each student succeeds, not only academically, not only during each school day, but in life. The current public schools attempt this, but Summit Public Schools has perfected it. The individualized approach to learning helps prepare students for college by teaching them how to be a self-directed learner.

At Summit Sierra, and other Summit Public Schools in Washington, we use a program called the PLP (Personalized Learning Plan). It provides information on what we need to do to get into certain colleges. It also allows us to set goals, check assignments, and lets us each work at our own pace.

Being able to self-direct your learning is an essential skill in college, and when all the students graduate, they will use this skill in the workplace. Being self-directed is great to learn at young age, too, because the earlier you learn, the sooner you can be independent.

When a child first enters a Summit School, they will get a mentor. Their mentor will guide them throughout their years in school. The student and mentor will have a bond form between them, as well as with the larger group of mentees.

The mentor program gives students someone to look up to. During the mentor check-ins every Friday, the mentor checks in with his mentees to see how they how they are doing both academically and psychologically. This key piece of the Summit Public School experience of learning allows each child to feel like they matter.

Every child deserves educational options.

Every child deserves a way to show their creativity.

Every child deserves a place to grow.

Every child deserves to go to college.

And most of all: every child deserves a chance to succeed.


Thank you in advance for your consideration,


Kai Worley-Flannell

Dear Gov. Inslee: 'We need you to be strong.'

Dear Gov. Inslee,

My name is Zoe Mitchell, and I am a 9th grader at Summit Sierra Public charter school in Seattle. Last fall, the legislature ruled that charter schools were unconstitutional, and as a student attending a charter school, I feel very lost in the conversation.

Every student shares the feeling of injustice over this plan having been put through without any consideration of our thoughts. This is absurd seeing as how we are the ones who are most affected by this, and we feel that our opinions carry a lot of weight concerning the matter. We have attended this new high school for more than six months and by now have established firm relationships with our teachers and peers.

All of us students would be devastated if our school were to be closed down. All of us have put so much faith and effort into this school. To see it all go down the drain is despairing and leads to some serious doubts about democracy and our government, which is supposed to protect its people’s needs.

Personally, I have had more fun learning here in a few weeks than I've ever had at all the time in my public middle school. There also seems to be a lot of complaining about crowded schools. Don't charter schools take the pressure off and give children more options? They are a public school and should be considered an equal alternative. 

I write this letter to you with the hope that you will take into the consideration the opinions and lives of charter school students and their community. I don't want to leave this school so early in my efforts.

Please sign the charter school bill. 1909 was over a hundred years ago and deciding that a rule written so long ago should affect the education of students in 2016 seems weak. We all need you to be strong.

Thank you for your time. 



Zoe Mitchell