For the second time in as many months, the Newton Board of Education heard several complaints from parents (and one student) regarding the implementation of the Summit Learning curriculum in district buildings — particularly at Santa Fe 5/6 Center — during a period of public comment at its most recent meeting.

Once again, Jennifer Rose and Jessica Taylor came before the school board to voice their concerns about Summit Learning, with a third parent — Elisha Blount — joining in the chorus this time around, though all three had differing reasons for coming before the board.

Rose continued to address the lack of one-to-one mentoring as a key concern — an area meant to be one of the three pillars of the curriculum based on the district's own guide to implementing Summit Learning. Based on what Rose has seen and documentation, that mentoring continues to be lacking — with some students getting only 15 percent of the time promised. With teacher interactions being phased out amid the implementation of the online curriculum, Rose worries about what kind of atmosphere that is creating.

"Summit is meant to be challenging, but by slapping a computer in front of a student instead of a teacher and by failing to provide sufficient mentoring, our school has created an excessively challenging and stressful environment while simultaneously removing supportive relationships," Rose said. "Our school has created an environment that may indeed be toxic to some students, maybe even traumatic"

Questioning how many students may get left behind in this new curriculum, Rose asked the Newton BOE what the strategy is for handling the Summit implementation moving forward.

Blount, on the other hand, was more concerned with those students progressing ahead of schedule with Summit, relaying stories of some students spending two hours a day playing video games.

While there were concerns raised about the physical effects of that amount of screen time, Blount was mainly focused on addressing whether those top students who have progressed rapidly are now being held back due to the structure of Summit Learning.

"I feel like this is not individualized the way it should be," Blount said.

Jen Smith, Santa Fe 5/6 Center principal, told The Kansan in December with any new curriculum there will be a bit of a learning curve — and that has certainly been the case with the Summit Learning model, as building staff continue to tinker with its implementation in the classroom.

"Anytime you implement something, there's always some things to work out. I know it's been a positive change for us overall and we're working through that," Smith said. "I think the biggest challenge for us, because we're doing it building-wide, is gaining consistency. We go through all the training and everything, and every teacher has a different flair. They lead with a somewhat similar, but sometimes a little different, understanding of implementing something."

Like Rose, Taylor had continued to do some digging into the Summit implementation since coming before the board previously — focusing specifically on the overall effectiveness of the self-directed learning model.

During her research, Taylor noted some grave concerns were raised, as data showed the Santa Fe student body is not the target demographic for programs such as Summit.

"The disturbing discovery is that the evidence-based support of learning outcomes are on the college level population, not on the population (of) younger children," Taylor said.

Age-wise, Taylor pointed out that 11 to 12-year-olds do not have the basis of executive skills to properly manage time in an individualized learning model. She also raised concerns that such an experience (featuring less interaction with teachers) leaves students less likely to feel safe, known and a part of the school community based on research done by the Gates Foundation.

Unlike the previous meeting where these complaints were just heard, at the most recent BOE meeting they were also commented on by board member Jennifer Budde, who also is the mother of a student currently enrolled at Santa Fe.

Budde has also attempted to talk to building administration to get answers on issues she is hearing with Summit Learning — whether regarding staff concerns, areas in which the curriculum is perceived to be weak, etc. — but continues to hear repeated messages in support of Summit with little depth to them.

"One of my frustrations in my conversations with the administration is just recycled ads for Summit. I don't get any really nitty gritty on what's happening in the classrooms," Budde said. "The administration has not been really supportive of teachers who speak up against it, and that is also a huge problem."

Given the trend of concerns being raised, Budde was in favor of the board having an official conversation about the Summit Learning curriculum among the BOE — as were other members — and gathering more information (i.e. qualitative date, research on success rates, etc.) before deciding how to proceed.