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Sunnyside schools reaching for the 'Summit'

Now that the Sunnyside School District has been selected to participate in the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's three-year Summit program, everybody's rolling up their shirt sleeves and getting to work.

Summit is a three-year grant program and its goal is to have all high school students graduate by the end of year three, ready for college and career, according to Eric Sylling, the Summit Director for Sunnyside.

Even before being selected to participate in Summit, the Sunnyside School Board established a goal of 100 percent student academic achievement success.

Another goal is that 85 percent of students, regardless of race or economic level, will be meeting standard on state math tests and 90 percent will meet standards on reading and writing state tests.

Sylling noted there were significant factors in Sunnyside being selected to participate in Summit. Being selected, he said, "Reflects the fact that our district has a high level of needs, but also we've been innovators and shown commitment to have all students in our district achieve at high levels."

Sunnyside is in its first year of Summit participation and was one of only three districts in the state to be selected to do so this year. Last year, there were five districts that began implementing Summit.

With Summit, Sylling said a lot of support is provided from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to this district.

Sunnyside School District Improvement Facilitator Marlis Lindbloom is now paid with Summit funds. When she came on board last year, she was paid through OSPI.

Also with Summit, OSPI provides the district with assistance from WestEd out of California, a company that helps identify needs, sets goals and assesses progress in meeting those goals.

Also provided by Summit funding is professional development throughout the year on instructional strategies that help kids learn through a company called Teachscape.

The Baker Educational Research and Consulting group, also funded by Summit, collects data about instruction and gives the district feedback on how it's doing in goal implementation.

The Center for Educational Effectiveness out of Oregon is paid with Summit funds, too. "They help us do analysis of our WASL data and also collect perception data from parents, students and staff at every one of our schools," Sylling said. "Sunnyside has actually been working with them for a couple years, but this year it's nice because OSPI will be picking up the bill."

The main benefit of the Summit grant, Sylling said, is to help the entire Sunnyside School District focus on important things like effective instruction.

"It's also going to make a big difference with data information we didn't have before," Sylling said.

Professional development is now possible because of the Summit grant. "Otherwise we couldn't afford it."

Summit trickles down to each school in this way: teachers, coaches and administrators from each building get trained and are then responsible for relaying the information back to staff members of their respective buildings, Sylling said.

In addition to all of this, Sylling noted, "All buildings are trying to share what's working in their classrooms."

This year, all of the school board members will select a school building to visit each month. Each board member has been asked by Lindbloom and Sylling to come up with one significant question to query staff members as to how they're making progress in meeting their goals, as well as Summit goals. The reason why each board member has been asked to narrow it down to one question, Sylling said, is to try to make the list of questions manageable for staff when they meet with the board.

The value of the Summit grant is $400,000 a year, which includes some things OSPI is already paying for, said Sylling, like Lindbloom and the role she plays in the district.

Sylling said, "Summit is going to allow us to accelerate the growth we already have in the district towards the goals we already set. Summit is a nice fit because we already had high goals about kids meeting standards."

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