With a 4-3 vote and after much heated discussion, the USD 353 Board of Education eliminated the Summit curriculum from Wellington schools at its most recent meeting.
The Summit curriculum is to be fully eliminated from the district this July. The curriculum, which was added as part of the district’s redesign plan mandated by the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), was controversial, with some in the community vehemently opposed. Eliminating it without another curriculum in place has generated some controversy of its own.
A few days after the May 7 meeting, a Wellington High School student who asked that her name not be used, said, “As a student, Summit or no Summit, I really just think we need a break from all of the changes we’ve been seeing. For my class, we have not had two consecutive years of high school with the same schedule. The schedule changes are bad enough, but Summit?”
Teachers will also be under pressure to learn to teach a new curriculum, the student said.
“You wouldn’t think it’s hard for students to go along with these changes, but we suffer, too. When teachers are put under pressure, students are put under pressure,” she said.
Others are happy the Summit curriculum has been eliminated.
“I never got to experience Summit but I was in school when it was going on and I watched a lot of my friends switch schools because of it,” WHS graduate Piper Fisher said. “I also watched a lot of my friends cry over it. I honestly think that it is a good thing they got rid of it.”
During the BOE meeting, board member Tom Henning said he pulled up a mental health survey, showing 70 percent of students at WHS had suffered from depression.
“I guarantee if we voted out Summit right now and do another one of these, it’s going to be a completely different graph,” Henning said.
Board member Larry Mangan responded, “You’re making some wild ass statements here.”
Mangan said it would take time and money to find a new curriculum. “Let’s do it right,” he said. “We can vote on it for the next school year.”
“I cannot let that happen,” Henning responded. He said he has heard from kids who said they used to like school, but now hate it due to Summit.
Board member Jason Newberry, speaking remotely to the board through Zoom, said, “Tom, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but I will tell you, I had people come up to me today and say, ‘Do not make a rash decision on this. My kid needs it.’ I’m not discounting what you’re saying. I have people coming to me saying the other.”
USD 353 Superintendent of Schools Adam Hatfield suggested taking a survey and getting specific answers. “I want data that trumps individual conversations,” he said.
Board member Carol Hadorn, a retired teacher, expressed reservations about eliminating Summit without another curriculum in place that had been studied and that the community would be given time to buy into.
Board member Pat Zeka, who has been critical of Summit, nevertheless expressed reservations similar to those mentioned by Hadorn. Zeka was concerned about ending Summit too quickly.
“This has weighed on my mind really heavy,” Zeka said. “I just want to do the right thing.”
Board member DeAnna Garver, who has also been critical of Summit, said, “The reason why I have all the confidence to vote it out tonight is because I know what our teachers just did when we had COVID. They had to figure out something fast.”
Henning was adamant about having the vote that night.
“I was elected by 684 people to fight for them,” he said. “If I don’t stand up and fight for them, that challenges my integrity as a person.”
Garver later made a motion that they vote on whether to eliminate Summit. Henning seconded the motion. Garver, Henning and Zeka voted in favor. Board member Chuck Buckman, who had not expressed any desire one way or the other during the meeting, proved to be the swing vote, voting in favor of eliminating Summit. Mangan, Newberry and Hadorn voted not to eliminate it.
A couple of days after the meeting, a Summit Learning Spokesperson sent an email to the Wellington Daily News, saying, "The Summit Learning team strives to provide local leaders with the information they need to make the best decisions for their communities. With the tremendous evidence of the success of Summit Learning across the Wellington Unified School district, we're surprised and disappointed that the board voted this week to discontinue the program.”
The spokesperson also said that for the first time in more than a decade, sophomores from Wellington High School performed above the state average, after just one year in the Summit Learning program. She said that since schools closed due to COVID-19, student engagement at Wellington HS and Kennedy, which incorporated Summit has remained high (above 90 percent), and students are continuing to check in with their mentor, set goals, complete projects, and take assessments.
Brian Hamilton, a Wellington resident, said he was looking forward to his daughter being in the Summit program next school year. Hamilton said he had no strong feelings for or against Summit, but said, “I just believe my daughter would have been fine.”