District 20’s newest charter school is finding that focusing on building relationships and cultivating a lifelong love of learning is paying off for its students after just one semester.

New Summit Charter Academy, 7899 Lexington Drive, opened in August and has about 470 students in kindergarten through sixth grades. The school is a Core Knowledge school, meaning its curriculum is built around instilling a love of learning by teaching crucial, core material students can build on.

“(As a charter school), we get to choose our own curriculum that best fits the needs of our community,” said Kim McClelland, executive director and principal of New Summit. There are multiple Core Knowledge charter schools throughout Colorado Springs, but “what makes us a little bit different is that we’re focusing on literacy first, (and) we’re focusing on math mastery,” McClelland added.

The school also uses “The Singapore Approach” to teaching math. Many of the students have seen a significant increasing in performance this semester, with one classroom seeing a 78 percent increase in their math skills, McClelland said.

New Summit focuses on helping students build relationships and persevere through challenges.

“When they leave here, they’re going to remember,’I loved school so much and I felt so valued where I was and I built this character,’” McClelland said. “Life is about new summits, and that’s one of our mottos. Life is about new summits and that takes learning, and that takes relationship, that takes perseverance.”

According to McClelland, relationship and character building aren’t just programs taught at New Summit, they are a crucial component to everything done in the school. Staff and teachers stand outside their classrooms to greet their students each morning, asking them if they would like a hug or a high five.

“I would say one of the biggest differences here is (that) we’re building that relationship with kids first,” McClelland said. “That was something (that we were) very thoughtful about that in the beginning of the school year so that kids could feel like ‘OK, because this is a scary place coming to a brand new place everybody’s new,’ but we were very thoughtful about the relationship building in the beginning.”

McClelland said she applies the school-wide contract of respect, active listening and assuming the best of others when communicating with parents. Students and teachers also enter into social contracts with one another, agreeing to cultivate an environment of respect. Students participate in daily, positive affirmations.

“Our social contract is an agreement of behavior,” McClelland said. “Every classroom has a social contract and they work through that at the beginning of the year and then even at the semester they re-evaluate, like, ‘How are we doing with our social contract?’

“So, if you walk around to all of our different class rooms you’ll see its written in our kids’ language … and they sign it like the Declaration of Independence.”

Thanks to a partnership with Northstar Commercial Partners, New Summit Charter Academy has a building previously used by a publishing company, with room to expand. Work on a larger cafeteria and new classrooms is underway.

New Summit Charter Academy, originally approved as a K-8 charter school, also has a subcontracted Diakonia preschool on the premises, and offers before- and after-school care. Students can use the gym in the building next door during physical education classes. One grade level will be added each year, starting with seventh grade in 2019. Plans are in the works to add a high school in the next few years, with critical data about students’ needs and career choice trends under evaluation.

“Next year we’ll be growing,” McClelland said. “Our goal is to be at roughly about 650 students next year by adding that seventh grade.

“We’re really wanting to focus on (families) who want to be involved, (who are) focused on a lifelong love of learning.”

For more information, visit newsummitcharter.org.

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