Summit Learning future considered by USD 373

Chad Frey
The Kansan

The future of Summit Learning in the Newton School District is not completely clear — however what is clear is that the program will not be scrapped at the end of this school year. 

Summit Learning, an online learning tool created by the founders of Facebook, was first launched in the Newton School District at Chisholm Middle School in 2018 as part of a school redesign effort.

"At this point in the year, to make a change in the platform or the curriculum, and when you are going to do it for four curricular areas, it is a very difficult task," said Fred Van Rankin, superintendent of Newton schools. "It is not a situation where you just go to the shelf and pick something. You have to spend more time." 

Summit Learning, an online learning tool created by the founders of Facebook, was first launched in the Newton School District at Chisholm Middle School in 2018 as part of a school redesign effort.

The issue has arisen as parents have lodge complaints about the learning system to the board since the system was implemented — and increased this year as the district implemented online learning in response to pandemic COVID-19. 

At one point this school year 65 percent of assignments to students at Chisholm Middle School were incomplete — that drew immediate changes at the school including the creation of "Workshop Wednesdays." Those workshops are supposed to be based, at least in part, on student assessments in Summit to allow students to focus on problematic areas.

Summit Learning was implemented to help students move at their own pace to learn skills, apply those skills to real world projects and reflect on their learning. Another facet of the model is to have one-on-one mentoring sessions with teachers each week.

Summit Learning discussion dominated the board of education meeting this week, and a timeline created for improvement of the online learning system put in place at Chisholm Middle School and Santa Fe  5/6 center. 

"We are coming up for a plan of improvement for the remainder of this year, and working on a plan for next year," Van Rankin said. 

The board will review a plan for improvement of the system for the remainder of this school year on April 12. 

That plan will be required to include data based targets for student progress, expectations of workshop needs based on student data, consistene expectations for mentoring, plans for social support for students struggling in school and plans for parent and family engagement. 

"One of the things we plan to  do is a parent perception survey," Van Rankin said. "That will deal with your feelings about student learning in the situations they are in ... [The Buildings] will be also creating a parent focus group for input."

The district will be creating a plan for improvements targeting the first semester of the 2021-22 school year. That plan is due to the board by June 28. 

According to an action plan published with the board agenda this week, the board will  consider the continuation of the Summit Learning platform at the first meeting in January of 2022.

"I know some folks are disappointed with that, some folks are happy with that and some folks are neutral," Van Rankin said. "The board was in a no win situation."

At this time the board has four options to consider in January 2022: total elimination of the platform from USD 373 at the end of the 2021-22 school year; phase-out of the platform over a 2-3 year period; parent/student choice for continued platform use within the district; and continuation of the platform in certain content areas.

Concerns with Summit Learning have been raised in other school districts as well. Parents expressed concerns over advertising and other issues to the McPherson Board of Education. In May 202, the board of Wellington schools responded to concerns about Summit Learning by eliminating the curriculum for its schools.