Summit Denali: 12 Components of an NGLC Winning Design

There are 135 sixth graders working in a Silicon Valley office park this fall. They attend Summit Denali, Summit Public Schools‘ sixth school and first foray into the middle grades.
The innovative Bay Area school network is a pioneer in blended and competency based learning. CEO Diane Tavenner launched Summit Prep, the organization’s flagship school, a decade ago. With each new school, Diane and her talented team continue to innovate on the secondary school model. Here’s the ingredients of the current blend:

  1. 10 days of onsite student orientation
  2. Personalized learning plans for every student
  3. 1-3 student led, mentor and family meetings every year to focus on his or her Personalized Learning Plan (PLP)
  4. 100 hours per course of Project Time every year, facilitated by a teacher and focused on students cognitive skills development
  5. 8 hour per week of Personalized Learning Time at school, where students are focused on content knowledge
  6. 8 hours per week of Personalized Learning Time at home
  7. 10 minute weekly student led conferences with his or her mentor focused on their PLP
  8. 120 minutes of reading per week at school through Summit Reads
  9. 45 minute per week of community building
  10. 8 weeks per year of Expedition experiences
  11. 10 hours per year of parent information/engagement sessions and workshops
  12. Ongoing support throughout the school year around the college application process

The most surprising ingredient on that list is #10, the extensive commitment to Expeditions. These rotating intersession classes are taught by Summit’s team of Expedition teachers, in partnership with Bay Area community organizations –and that’s how they facilitate an 40 days of professional development–an incredible commitment considering California funding.
The daily schedule starts with 30 minutes of reading with Gobstopper, an e-reader “platform for schools that allows educators to put the questions and quizzes they would normally place in worksheets directly into the text.” Gobstopper has lots of open content and, with encouragement from Summit, will introduce rented proprietary content this year.
Reading is followed by four hour long blocks of Project Time. “Classes are not traditional classes anymore,” said Summit’s Mira Browne, “Teachers are no longer teaching content, but instead they are facilitating students through project-based learning experiences in which students are focused on developing their cognitive skills and applying the content they are learning in Personalized Learning Time.
Fridays start with a community meeting and continues with individual mentor meetings where students get feedback on their Self Directed Learning Cycle.
Personalized learning. When a student opens their Chromebook, they log into their PLP, an online tool developed by Summit that visibly puts learning in the students’ hands. When a student dives into a subject like Algebra, the bars across the top of the PLP screen show power focus areasand additional focus areas.
Students set and track short and long-term learning goals. Short-term goals can be daily or weekly goals, for example “I would like to master Representing Functions and pass the assessment this week.” Long-term goals can revolve around college (I want to attend UC Berkley), subject mastery and personal development.
Students use PLP to monitor their progress made on their content, cognitive skills and self-directed learning, and access the appropriate curriculum and assessments for their personalized learning pathway. Teachers and parents and teachers can access PLP anytime and provide coaching support.
In addition to building the PLP, the Summit team, with support from the Girard Foundation, worked with Illuminate Education to build a free content delivery system called Activate Instruction. It delivers personalized playlists of open, proprietary and teacher developed content in each subject. Students work individually on content and, according to Tavenner, “won’t be sitting in class where they are taught something they know.”
Activate playlists offer a diverse array of learning resources students can work through in a personalized manner to learn their content. When they are ready, students can take an assessment on demand. Assessments are embedded into each Playlist, so that as soon as a student feels ready they are able to go directly to the assessment.
Progress in content areas prepares students to engage in complex projects and performance tasks. Projects are sequenced and conducted in cohorts. Results of rubric assessments are captured in ShowEvidence. Development of cognitive skills can be viewed as growth progressions; 9th grade may require performance of at least 2 or 3 on a scale of 7, and 10th grade requires at least 3 or 4.
“Our biggest aha moment, was separating out what we’re trying to assess and then finding or developing relevant measures for each,” said Tavenner.
Course grades are based on a combination of performance tasks and content assessments. Students can’t complete a course and progress without demonstrating competence.
Hooked on Hangouts. “ We’re hooked on video conferencing,” said Tavenner. Course teams across the network meet on Google Hangout on Tuesday afternoons.
“In order promote and sustain teacher voice, which has always been an important part of the Summit model,” said Browe, “teachers lead and participate in school leadership teams, course level teams, and grade level teams.
“We’re committed to lean startup strategies,” said Tavenner, “Build, measure, learn cycles.” Each team receives a weekly data packet, in Google Drive for ease of visualization, including student demographics, progress in courses, and assessment results. “We want to make data open source and promote outside analysis,” said Tavenner.
Summit Denali was awarded a Launch Grant from the Gates-funded Next Generation Learning Challenges. It was profiled along with 20 next-generation high schools.
For more on NGLC winning Denali, see Summit Denali: Engaging Student-Centered High School Model (this post includes a screenshot of the tracking system they’re building).
For more on NGLC Profiles see:

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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