How Two of the Nation’s Top Charter Networks Have Adapted to COVID-19 Closures

Two of the nation’s most successful charter networks, Summit Public Schools and Success Academy, have taken the school closures due to COVID-19 and turned it into an opportunity to support students, teachers, and families, with both strategies that already existed in the school, and new approaches. As we move forward with planning the upcoming school year, reviewing what some of the nation’s most exemplary schools offered and had success with this spring is an important aspect of planning.

Summit Public Schools, which consist of 11 schools in the California Bay Area and Washington’s Puget Sound, have experienced success because the schools’ existing model was relatively easily adapted for distance learning. In 2013, Summit implemented a purposeful blended-learning model that equipped their students with tools to succeed and focused on six core aspects of student learning. One of Summit’s six core aspects of student learning is personalized-learning time. This personalized-learning time is online and is facilitated by the Summit-developed Personalized Learning Plan. This tool allows teachers, students, and parents to work together. It also offers the crucial element of immediate feedback, which students receive and use to advance their learning without delay. 

The personalized-learning plans include the use of technology. Summit’s purposeful use of technology has created an environment where the learning that takes place is both self-paced and self-directed, and includes a teacher facilitating the learning.

In a recent blog post for the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), McKittrick discussed how Summit Atlas, in West Seattle, has taken its personalized learning one step further by offering families four different paths for their child’s education during distance learning. These paths allow students options ranging from taking a pause to accelerating learning during this time. McKittrick and her son chose the plan that allows them to stay on track. This plan has her son attending school from 8:20am-3:20pm.

Summit Atlas holds daily synchronous instruction, and also uses face-to-face time to have mentor teachers check-in with students regarding anything that may be hindering learning, such as a lack of food or other resources. Diane Tavenner explains the value of the mentor in her book, Prepared What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, “Each mentor has an individual relationship with each mentee, but they also lead a group that spends lots of time together. They are essentially the nuclear family for each student in the Summit community. We are very careful in selecting  groups that are heterogeneous, balanced by gender, race, academic skill, and economic background.”

This face-to-face time allows teachers to discuss assignments with students and offer valuable feedback. Teachers hold regular face-to-face meetings with parents as well. These check-ins with students and families are held multiple times throughout each day. During the synchronous instruction time, students get the opportunity to interact with each other, which is beneficial for the student to continue to develop social-emotional skills. 

Another of the nation’s most celebrated charter school networks, Success Academy Charter Schools, which operates 45 charter schools in New York, is holding high expectations for their staff and students. Success Academy is using this period of remote learning to reorganize teacher roles. CRPE’s Brian Wilson explains here that, “one teacher in each grade—the most engaging and inspiring, the clearest, perhaps the funniest—will be selected to deliver the lessons via video calls in each subject area to all students in the grade.” 

The idea of reorganizing teacher roles in order to allow for more students to be impacted by one teacher is not a new idea. Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel explained here that, “Teacher effectiveness has the largest impact of school effects on student learning…” If teacher effectiveness has the largest impact, and teachers are in short supply, it makes sense to take the most effective teacher and have that teacher instructing larger groups. This allows the reach of one effective teacher to grow. Instead of sticking with the teacher/student combinations that were assigned at the start of the brick-and-mortar school year, all students now have the ability to experience being taught by highly-effective teachers.

The other teachers that are not instructing large groups of students still have important roles to fill. At Success these teachers are able focus on student-created content. This allows them to work one-on-one with students that need help understanding concepts being taught and also provide valuable feedback in a smaller setting. The teachers work together as a team to plan and trouble-shoot. 

Success still maintains reading as its first priority. Elementary students are required to read 15 books a week, and listen to another 15 books each week. Though libraries are currently closed, Success students look to digital titles available online from public libraries. Students are only allowed to listen to books using Audible, Overdrive, and Tumblebooks. 

We don’t know what school will look like next year, but we do know that now is the time to create plans that can provide the highest level of education possible for students during uncertain times. Schools in Nevada, and all over the country, have the opportunity to learn from how other schools responded this spring, and what they offered their students, in order to put in place a plan where every child in Nevada can receive a quality education that prepares them for the future.

CRPE has compiled a database of district responses to COVID-19, including resources the school has offered, feedback that is being given, and if teacher check-ins are happening. This database is an informative resource that CRPE is continually updating. It includes 82 districts that were selected for range in geography and size, serving close to 9 million students.