RE-2 Administration Supports Controversial Summit Learning Platform

Changes Sought with Non-traditional, Multi-media Education Techniques

Trevor Phipps

The Summit Learning Platform, used at some schools within the Woodland Park RE-2  District, has become a topic that has generated much debate.

The Learning Platform issue, which showcases more  non-traditional technological approaches to teaching, ignited many heated comments during the school board races last November.

Moreover, a new more conservative board has taken office, with the majority members questioning aspects of this platform.

During some of the earlier board forums, some parents spoke out and said that the platform is why they chose to send their children to schools outside of the district. Others spoke positively of the platform and said that some students do really well with this format, and that it is a necessary tool to help students keep up with the world of changing technology.

After the new Superintendent Dr. Mathew Neal was hired at the beginning of the school year, he decided to contract out a third party firm to conduct an extensive review of the platform. The company “To the Core” then conducted their review in late October and November 2021.

During their review process, they observed classrooms and surveyed hundreds of parents (including ones who chose to leave the district), students, and staff members. The company then compiled all of the data they found into a report that outlined things that were working well with the Summit Learning Platform and some things that could change with it.

During a board of education work session that took place on Jan. 19, Jenny Klein with To the Core gave a presentation with all of the data that was found during the review.

The first part of Klein’s presentation focused on educating the audience about the Summit Learning Platform itself. Klein described that it is a tool of district staff and that the platform itself doesn’t provide any curriculum for students.

The platform is a computer program that contains progress/grade reports that parents can access at any time on their mobile phones. The platform also provides universal classroom feedback and curriculum for all staff across the district to access.

The district implemented the platform at the middle school level seven years ago and brought it to the high school three years ago after members from the public pushed the district to incorporate it. When the district implemented Summit, it took the place of several other digital tools used by the district including online classroom and report card programs.

Whereas some schools use a combination or computer-based programs to track attendance, behavior, grades, and curriculum, the Summit Learning Platform combines all of these tools into one interface.

Currently, the Summit Learning Platform is used at Woodland Park’s Gateway Elementary School for fourth and fifth graders, everyone attending the Woodland Park Middle School, and freshman and sophomores at the high school level.

During the first part of her presentation, Klein then went on to point out some specific things that the platform offers to support teaching and learning.

For one, the platform provides collaboration for teachers and classrooms, ,as well as providing a data warehouse that teachers, students, and parents can access. Summit Learning also contains a mentoring and coaching tracking system, and a digital assessment program.

The system also provides access to various digital learning tools and multimedia materials to aid the teachers in the classroom. The platform contains a curriculum management system that does not contain any curriculum itself, but it helps the teacher manage the curriculum they choose to teach.

The extensive review found positive factors from this platform including how it has helped to create a positive school culture at both the high school and middle school. The study showed that the focus on mentoring has created strong relationships between students and staff.

On the other side of the coin, the audit suggested areas of needed change.  Klein recommended that the district shift the use of Summit, and use it more as a tool that helps the instructors go back to more of a teacher facilitation model.

On Jan. 20 the district then issued a press release describing what actions district administrators plan to take after getting the results of the review.

According to Dr. Neal, the district plans to shift the focus in classrooms to being ones with less reliance on technology resources, and an increased emphasis on teacher-directed instructional time.

“Our teachers do an amazing job in the role of teaching,” the district superintendent said. “Moving forward, we are committed to increasing parameters around online resources, such as the use of YouTube and other digital media, to make sure screen time is significantly reduced in all classrooms. As this shift begins, our faculty members will be personally connecting with each family in our schools for feedback and support so we move forward intentionally.”

The district also plans to implement a more formalized method of communication between parents and teachers regarding the use of the platform. “It is important that we continue to help support students that may struggle utilizing the Summit Learning Platform,” said Neal. “We will be moving forward with strategies that allow our schools to continue to provide supplemental options for students that may find the platform challenging.”

During the board work session, Dr. Neal said that getting rid of the platform completely would not be feasible because that would mean returning to paper report cards and hard back text books, which don’t really exist anymore. The superintendent explained that the better (and less costly) option would be to change the way the platform is used to meet the needs of the stakeholders in the community.