Summit Public School: Sierra will open in the fall of 2015 in South Seattle. Summit Sierra will start with one class of 120 9th graders and grow to serve grades 9-12 by the 2018-'19 school year. • Courtesy Photo
Summit Public School: Sierra will open in the fall of 2015 in South Seattle. Summit Sierra will start with one class of 120 9th graders and grow to serve grades 9-12 by the 2018-’19 school year. • Courtesy Photo

For those who have passed through 10th and Jackson over the past several months, a robust construction site has noticeably taken over what previously housed a beloved community landmark—the Asian Resource Center. This August, the building will resume its role in serving the community, but in a new and different capacity as a public charter school.

On August 17, 2015, Summit Public Schools: Sierra will open as a public charter high school where the Asian Resource Center once occupied. Malia Burns is Summit Sierra High School’s founding Executive Director (or principal as many know the role) and is overseeing the development and operation of the school.

Malia Burns, Exec. Director of Summit Sierra High School. • Courtesy Photo
Malia Burns, Exec. Director of Summit Sierra High School. • Courtesy Photo

“Summit’s mission is to prepare a diverse student population for success in a four-year college or university, and to be thoughtful, contributing members of society,” Burns explains.

Summit Public Schools is a nonprofit charter network that has a strong track record for high student achievement. The network began operating in California with seven schools currently serving students and families in the Bay Area. Recently, two of Summit’s public schools received national recognition by the U.S. News and World Report among the Best High Schools in 2015. Across the network, 99 percent of its high school seniors get accepted into one or more four-year colleges and are completing college at a rate that is double the national average. Two Summit schools will be opening in Washington this fall as options for families: Sierra High School in Seattle and Olympus High School in Tacoma.

Students currently enrolled in Summit Sierra High School represent over 15 zip codes from throughout the Greater Seattle area; more than half of the students enrolled are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Burns is particularly enthusiastic about having Summit Sierra High School share the space with Little Saigon and the Chinatown International-District (CID) community, stating: “The CID is an epicenter of community development, and we want our students to be part of it. By his or her senior year, our hope is that each of our students will have made a significant contribution to our community.”

Charter schools are a type of public school. Like all public schools, they do not charge tuition, they are open to all students, and they are publicly funded. However, charter schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. In exchange for greater accountability, teachers and principals are given more flexibility to customize their teaching methods and curriculum to improve student learning.

Burns says she fell in love with being an educator while teaching Global History and Geography in the South Bronx, New York. Her experience there highlighted the inequities in resources and opportunities between affluent students and those who come from low-income and diverse backgrounds, and her passionate commitment to reducing these inequities has guided her toward becoming a public charter school leader.

“Some schools that could have rich diversity lose that opportunity through their tracked programs that perpetuate the opportunity gap for students and miss the chance to deeply engage students in learning about those from other backgrounds and life experiences,” says Burns.

Burns, like other charter school leaders, hopes to offer charter schools as another public school option for families in Washington, designing the school with the community in mind. “Charters are part of a range of solutions in the public school system that help to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality education,” she says.

With the support of WA Charters, Burns and the Summit Sierra team have been able to focus on building a relationship with the surrounding community.

For the past year, the Summit Sierra High School staff has been informing families about Summit Sierra as a new high school choice, and recruiting students while at the same time seeking input from the community that will shape the school. “After listening to people tell their stories, rich history lessons and powerful biographies have emerged. I’ve come to understand Seattle in an entirely new way, and I am inspired to continue connecting and collaborating with others who are working through different avenues on the same challenges that we confront in the classroom,” she says.

Last year, Burns participated in intensive training and professional development through the Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters) Leadership Center’s Strong Start program. WA Charters is a statewide nonprofit organization that partners with communities to advocate for and support the startup, development, and long-term viability of high-quality public charter schools, in an effort to ensure that every student in Washington has access to a high-quality public education.

Seven other charter schools throughout the Puget Sound and Spokane area will also be opening their doors in Washington this fall: Rainier Prep, Excel Public Charter School, SOAR Academy, Green Dot Destiny Middle School, Summit Olympus High School, PRIDE Prep, and Spokane International Academy.

Summit Sierra High School is accepting student enrollment, to apply, visit summitps.org.

For more information, we invite you to attend an info session on June 3 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98118. Also visit wacharters.org.

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