New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

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Primary Contact Name:
Mira Browne
Award Date:
June 2012
Grant Type:
National Launch
Start Date:
Fall 2013
Startup Type:
New School

School: Summit Denali
Grades Served: 6-12
Location: Bay Area, CA
Operator: Summit Public Schools
Operator Type: Charter
Setting: Urban
Students at Start: 135
Students at Capacity: 700

Blended Model Type: Flex

Key Features: Project-based and Experiential Learning, Competency-based Learning, College Readiness and Success

When Summit Public Schools examined its portfolio of California schools looking for areas to improve, the end goal was clear—college and career readiness—but school developers struggled to find room for change within their existing model.

The existing model was already rigorous, with all students participating in a college-prep curriculum, including at least six Advanced Placement courses before graduation. The schools were already leveraging digital content in the classroom to help provide differentiated instruction and remediation. But the very design of the traditional school—four walls around a classroom and a teacher driving student learning—was making it impossible to truly think outside the box.

What the school needed was to flip the school model, placing students at the center and allowing them to self-direct and drive their own learning. In the fall of 2013, Summit’s Next Generation School Model debuted with the opening of Summit Denali. Summit’s Next Generation school model is designed to ensure that every student is prepared for success in college and career by focusing on four elements of college readiness: Content Knowledge, Cognitive Skills, Habits of Success, and Expeditions.

Summit Elements Of College And Career Readiness

The Summit Denali school day is designed around the four elements of college and career readiness. The Summit student experience includes:

  • Personalized Learning Time: Students work towards their individual learning goals to develop and demonstrate content knowledge. Each week, students use the Self-directed Learning Cycle to set goals, make a plan, learn, show what they know and reflect. Students learn at their own pace, and in the ways they learn best, by utilizing a combination of playlists curated by Summit teachers, peer-to-peer coaching and 1:1 tutoring. Playlists and content assessments are housed in Activate Instruction.
  • Project Time: Students spend the majority of their school day in Project Time, where they are engaged in authentic, project-based learning experiences facilitated by Summit teachers and housed in a platform called ShowEvidence. Project Time is driven by high-quality, interdisciplinary, deeper learning activities that call on students to think critically, develop important cognitive skills, work collaboratively, and apply the content they are learning in Personalized Learning Time.
  • Mentor Time: All Summit students have a mentor who supports them in setting and meeting their learning and performance goals. Students lead weekly meetings with their mentor, where they review their Personalized Learning Plan, track their academic progress and receive coaching on their self-directed learning skills. Mentors serve as college counselors, coaches, family liaisons and advocates, ensuring their mentees are excelling inside and outside of the classroom every day.
Summit Public Schools classroom
  • Summit Reads: Arguably one of the most important skills needed for college and career success, students have dedicated time each day to improve and strengthen their reading. This time is dedicated to developing literacy skills and practicing perseverance and other important Habits of Success. Summit uses an e-reading platform called Gobstopper.
  • Summit Solves: Mathematical problem-solving skills are also crucial for success in our modern world. Every day, Summit students spend time in Summit Solves, practicing their numeracy skills and mathematical problem-solving at their own level and their own pace.
  • Community Time: Students meet together each week in small, collaborative groups to engage in discussions around issues important to them. These Socratic dialogues underpin the Summit community’s values of respect, responsibility, courage, compassion, and integrity, while exploring topics such as vulnerability, motivation, and self-advocacy.

Learn more about the student experience:

Each day, students log into their Personalized Learning Plan (PLP), a student dashboard designed in-house by Summit. In the PLP, students set learning and personal growth goals, track their progress, receive immediate feedback, and are able to access all learning resources at any time.

The PLP is designed to be a dynamic tool where students, families, and teachers alike can offer support and coaching.

Summit Denali also includes a hallmark of Summit’s model: an eight-week Expeditions program (held during intervals throughout the school year) that gives students the opportunity to engage in a course, internship, or project that explores areas of interest or passion as well as investigate potential careers. During Expeditions, Summit students work full-time on courses ranging from digital arts and theater to robotics and community-service projects. At Denali, Expeditions experiences will integrate with the development of the behaviors and dispositions they need to succeed in college, career, and life.

Summit Denali is one of nine Summit schools in California and Washington using this Next Generation School Model. The charter network plans to grow to serve 6,000 students through 14 schools. In all cases, lessons learned from individual models help refine and influence the entire cohort moving forward.

Application Deck