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Schools of the Future: California’s Summit Public Schools

The first time I visited a Summit Public School, in February 2014, I pulled up in front of a long, low, one-story building in an office park setting. I was sure I had the wrong address—but no, there was a sign. This was Summit Denali, in Sunnyvale, California.

Inside, my surprise deepened. All the students, then sixth graders, were in one big, open area. Most were working on their own, at laptops. A few were working with another student, or in hushed conversations with teachers. One was on a sofa, reading. All their chairs, desks, tables, and whiteboards were on wheels, so the space could be instantly reconfigured.

Diane Tavenner, Summit’s co-founder and CEO, explained that she and her colleagues had spent the last two years piloting profound changes in their education process, and this year they had rolled out the new, personalized model in all seven of their Bay Area charter schools. “The industrial model is really driven by adults,” she said. “Kids come in, they’re told where to go, where to sit, what they’re going to learn, when they’re going to learn it. You’re on the assembly line. We believe the next generation models are about the students being empowered to drive their own learning.”

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