A standing room only crowd of Crossett Middle School parents showed up at the Crossett School Board’s meeting Monday to discuss their concerns about the Summit Learning program being implemented for eighth grade students.
“I want to know more about this,” parent Jenny Grannon said. “I want to know where we are headed. “
What Summit is
The Summit program was started in California, and its Website says 330 schools across 40 states participate.
“They have it in California and North Carolina, so if it’s stretching coast to coast, they’ve got to be doing something right,” eighth grade teacher Ashton Wilson said.
Superintendent Gary Williams said Tuesday morning Summit is a platform that allows students to have access to a wealth of information under a teacher’s supervision.
“It’s like when I was in school and I used a text book,” Williams said. “I might use a newspaper or my teacher might bring in a VHS tape for us to watch.”
Williams says the program is using those same types of resources in a more evolved way.
“Summit is a platform that personalizes learning,” he said.
The resources are chosen by the teacher and the teacher is still in control, Williams said, and in addition to being an abundant source of information, some of the benefits of the program include personalized learning and goal setting, and more efficient communication between parents, teachers and student.
“Summit is more about eliminating the gap between the advanced students, the middle students and the students falling behind,” he said. “Instead of creating a lesson plan to target the middle group, which is what usually happens, Summit allows teachers to personalize. If a teacher makes a lesson plan to target and challenge the middle group, the advanced students are going to be bored, and the lower group is going to get left behind. This program allows teachers to push advanced students a little more while also making sure no one is falling through the cracks.”
Williams said he understands that parents have concerns about the program and what it is, but he wants to assure parents that it will not take the place of teachers and teacher interaction or require students to teach themselves.
Williams said he wants to make sure that the students are retaining the material and not just memorizing for the test, and he believes Summit can accomplish that.
“I know parents are concerned about students being allowed to re-take tests they fail on, but they aren’t re-taking the same test,” he said. “They are testing over the same concepts.”
Williams used the example of teaching students to read a map versus teaching them how to get from place to place.
“A person can memorize how to drive from here to Little Rock, but if I drop a person off in South Dakota, they probably won’t have the route to Little Rock memorized,” he said. “They are going to need to be able to use a map.”
Williams said that retaking the test over the same concepts will ensure that students know the formulas and tools to find the answers they need, and not just memorizing a few answers to get by or pass.
Responding to the public
During the Monday meeting, Crossett Middle School Principal Lou Gregario talked about Summit Learning and how pleased he was. He also asked eighth grade teacher Brandi Culp to stand with him, and Culp also praised the program. School board member Katie Jordan asked Gregario several questions about the program that she said she knew parents wanted answered.
When the board had to enter into executive session, board member Keith Medders asked if Gregorio would be available to talk with concerned parents while the board was in executive session, but both middle school administrators had to leave to go supervise a football game. Jordan told the parents that she had notified Gregorio that parents were coming and apologized. Some parents left, while others stayed to demand answers once the board returned. Culp, Wilson and Assistant Superintendent Barbara Garner started an open discussion with parents while the board was away.
“Several students are going home and telling their parents they aren’t being taught,” Wilson said before telling parents that was not the case.
Parent Matt Brooks expressed his concerns about group instruction, and Wilson assured him there was still group instruction.
Parents asked if the teachers believed this would affect test scores.
“Our test scores show we are way below average,” Brooks said. “Do you believe this is going to change that?”
Wilson explained that he felt this was exactly what the school needed. Wilson said he believes teaching things the same way it always has been done has not improved things, and he believes that parents should give this new program the opportunity to change things and improve scores.
Culp told the parents she has seen the difference the new program is making. Culp and Wilson both agreed that the communication between the school and the parents needs to improve so that parents understand what’s going on.