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Changes afoot at Summit Learning Academy

There are lots of changes at Summit Learning Charter this year — a new name, new logo, new home and some new programs.

Summit, which until recently was called Estacada Web Academy, is a free, public charter school sponsored by the Estacada School District. Although many of its students are from the Sandy-Estacada area, Summit has students from all over Oregon.

Summit moved from offices on Highway 224 near the Cazadero Inn and a few leased classrooms at River Mill Elementary School to new digs in a wing of the old Eagle Creek Elementary School at 30391 Eagle Creek-Sandy Highway.

Eagle Creek Elementary was closed by the Estacada School District at the end of last year.

The move gives Summit spacious classrooms for enrichment activities, plenty of office space and even the run of a big gym, all in one location.

“We are all about offering kids different options. We support different options for kids,” said Sean Gallagher, principal of Summit.

Summit is actually a group of schools and has 1,100 students, the limit it is allowed under its charter. There is an elementary school with about 200 students, a virtual academy for six through 12th-graders with about 300 students, and an early college for students in grades 10 through 12 with another 300 students. Summit also partners with Chemeketa Community College for Summit Community College High School and serves about 300 more students who have had a hard time in traditional school and are working toward a high school diploma or a GED.

“We have always served kids who have struggled. That's a challenge that we have taken on with a lot of pride,” Gallagher said. That challenge is reflected in the various “schools” standardized state test scores, which are significantly below state averages in every subject.

For elementary students, learning at Summit is a little like home schooling 2.0. Students take classes at home at set times with a live teacher on their computer screen.

But someone, usually a parent, is required to be a “primary learning coach” to support the student while class and enrichment schedules are set for the year. “Summit provides a wide array of text and computer curricula to support these young learners and offers a curriculum consultation for each family,” Gallagher said.

For middle and high school students, there is a bit more flexibility, with a greater offering of pure online classes. Students and their families craft a schedule from more than 200 available classes and several curriculum choices.

“Students can organize their learning to work in-synch with our teachers in our live courses, or create a blended approach where they access our instruction/tutoring services based on needs,” the principal said.

Students in the early college program attend the community college of their choice and earn both high school and college credits simultaneously. Summit counselors and teachers work with early college students to make sure classes fit their goals and needs, and students also have the benefit of the college's counseling, library and other resources.

On a recent rainy September day, students and their parents were streaming into Summit's new digs for orientation, which is a big deal at Summit.

“The first two weeks are critical,” said Gallagher.

Despite the fact that much of the learning is done at home and on a student's own time, “it is important to set expectations and a routine” for the students.

This is vital for remote-learning students.

“They have to lean to prioritize for themselves. It is a basic adult skill. You have to prioritize your day, or you simply will not be successful,” Gallagher said.

Although there is more flexibility for students than a traditional school, attendance is taken and there is a lot of communication between the students and teachers. Some of the teachers conduct their classes and communicate with students from their home offices, some from the Eagle Creek campus.

At orientation, every student is issued a lap top computer. Estacada School District bought 300 new chrome books for Summit.

Why Summit? There are as many reasons as students.

For the Gotchall family, it was dissatisfaction with local schools. Hunter, now in ninth grade and Devin, now in sixth grade, have been attending Summit for four years. “We pulled our kids out of the Estacada schools. We felt they were deteriorating and they had a couple of bad teachers,” Dan Gotchall said.

The Gotchall kids were not eager to go to school every day. So, the family looked into multiple options and decided to give Summit a try. It is working well for both boys. “Hunter got his smile back,” Gotchall said.

Some Summit students, for different reasons, cannot be successful in the traditional school setting. Some parents want more control of their kids education and are looking for something akin to home schooling.

A few Summit students are world-class athletes or skilled musicians and the virtual school gives them the flexibility to complete their education while training and competing in ice skating, fencing or devoting their time to piano.

Summit is not just about being home alone in front of a computer. Students who live close enough to the Eagle Creek campus can come by for study hall and get extra help on their work. They can take advantage of enrichment activities on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Enrichment might include writing, math, choir, art or the new computer coding class.

The school has a Lego Club and parent volunteers offer different clubs yearly. A middle school leadership class is being added this year. The high school has had leadership for several years.

Students can be on the sports teams of their local public schools. Some Summit students are in a local, multi-age orchestra.

The Gotchalls are big Summit fans.

Said Gotchall: “The teachers are not here just to collect a paycheck. They are here for the kids.”