By Alexander Stroev and Angela Hwang
Summit Public Schools (SPS) has redesigned Expeditions for the next school year. Some points have been finalized while others are still unclear.
Expeditions is the SPS version of electives. Students take two immersive classes in two-week chunks four times a year. As of next year, Expeditions will be expanded to all SPS schools and some classes, especially VPAs and preparation for life after high school will no longer be offered as Expeditions, but as part of mentor time, while others will continue to be offered in cycles.
Expeditions has been redesigned for four main reasons: 1) it is “inconsistent across” the “network”, which contributes to “disparities in student opportunity” and “threatens the validity of” the “‘aligned school model’”; 2) it is “not aligned with Concrete Next Step”; 3) it is “inequitable for students”; and 4) there are “multiple unscripted purposes”, as there are multiple uses of Expeditions time which are not aligned with the goals of Expeditions and there is a “pervasive cultural stigma that Expeditions is a ‘break’ / not as important as core classes.”
Some clear changes are as follows, according to two Executive Directors – Kevin Bock from Summit Denali and Monica Hanson from Expeditions (Mr. Bock was involved in the redesign and will be “leading the expansion of the Expeditions program to our schools in Washington state and middle schools in California”, according to the Denali newsletter sent on June 9 and Ms. Hanson, the current executive director of Expeditions was also involved in the redesign):
- VPAs: Each campus will have a VPA course embedded at the campus as a class and there will not be any VPAs in rotating Expeditions, though there will be some next-level art options in addition to other classes.
- Adulting, Life After High School and Concrete Next Steps: These classes will be “incorporated into everything” because they are “critical for feeling ready the next step”. These classes will be embedded into everything students do, meaning some aspects of this will be added to Expeditions classes.
- There will be an Expeditions Dean at each campus to help facilitate community relations and logistics with student classes.
- Internships will be “all consistently high quality” and finding internships will not be “all on the student” as there will also be an emphasis on expanding “community partnerships”.
The hope is that with some of the classes that will be embedded into the site, “strong relationships” that are “currently lacking” in Expeditions will be created, there will be more guidance for students since there will be “people on site every day guiding [them]”. Overall, Expeditions will be more “broadly available to everyone”, as Mr. Bock put it.
Another change, according to the newsletter sent out on May 20 by the Summit Team, are Expeditions options lead by other students and virtual Expeditions options that may offer college credit at no cost to students, according to another newsletter sent on June 9.
As with any other change, there are many perspectives regarding this change. Some teachers feel the change is too rushed, while others are “hopeful”.
Rebecca Breuer, who teaches Human Sexuality, said she “struggles to believe that”, referring to the statement that “everything’s [the redesign] planned out”. She thinks that since the people redesigning Expeditions have not “come into our classes and seen the different sights” do not “have the full scope of how things run”.
Mathew Scicluna, who teaches visual arts, concurred, saying, “The people that are making the changes, they never step foot into our classrooms once or meet with us face to face.” He did acknowledge that Corey Crouch, the project lead for the Expeditions redesign, may have been in a K2 classroom before. Monica Hanson, the executive director of Expeditions, also said Ms. Crouch has been in an Expeditions classroom before.
Ms. Hanson also said the redesign was based on feedback from many groups of people including students, parents, teachers and alumni. She said these people met in groups of their peers online during 2020 and 2021 and talked about their concerns regarding the current Expeditions system.
Regardless, Ms. Breuer has questions about how classes will run, especially the middle school, which will also have Expeditions. The redesigners want “experiential learning”, she said. But she “can’t teach that with her class” for either high school or middle school because it would be “inappropriate”.
Allegedly, Dianne Tavenner, the CEO of SPS, said it’s unnecessary to redesign the curriculum, though teachers should be thinking about the abilities of different levels of students. (It should be noted Ms. Tavenner was not speaking to Ms. Breuer about her course specifically, but rather to all teachers regarding all their courses in general.) Ms. Breuer, however, said her current curriculum was “not appropriate” to teach to middle school students and wonders how “classes will run”. Her course is comprehensive sex education and also examines controversial subjects where students need to examine their own beliefs and values.
Another one of her concerns is how students will get credit. Expeditions allegedly will be changing the way they look at grading, but Ms. Breuer does not understand how credit will be given if there are not grades.
They have “great, grand ideas”, but they are not “realistic”, Ms. Breuer said, summing up her concerns.
Many other teachers wonder about their futures.
Mathew Scicluna, who teaches the visual arts Expedition, said teachers were told in October that “big changes will happen” but were not given enough information. Then, in May, Mr. Scicluna was told to make “deadline decisions” but without the information he asked for months in advance. He was told there were several openings available for him, but when he agreed to take one, he was told, one after the other, that the positions were no longer available.
He was very upset in the interview. He said his first choice was to stay as an Expeditions teacher because some of the students (at several sites) are “basically [his] mentees”, which is really important to him, and to have it “stripped away” is “heartbreaking” to him.
“It’s crazy to feel dehumanized as a dedicated employee,” Mr. Scicluna added. But they are “manipulated to being pushed out because [they] don’t fit.”
Human Rights and Adulting teacher Dani Santos had a similar experience. She said she was offered a core teaching position at the Denali campus, but a Denali teacher interrupted our interview saying she had already signed the contract for that position. It is unclear whether the contract was signed before or after Ms. Santos was offered the position.
Ms. Santos, however, is much more concerned about the future of her Adulting course. She said her students cover topics in a comprehensive manner, as they explore how to rent apartments, buy cars, create a budget and how to do taxes, in addition to the “minute rules” and clauses “that are so important to know”.
Ms. Santos, like many of the other teachers, said she doesn’t feel the Summit administration knows the content she teaches in the class, especially considering she added more “crucial life skills” to the course; she does not think the original curriculum would be useful to students as the original content ”wasn’t nearly as helpful as the real-life skills and the detailed courses that I have been teaching.”
She has offered to teach a second Adulting course for Expeditions to open the class to more students, or to stay at one site and teach Adulting to “as many students as possible”.
All three of these teachers have felt ignored by the administration. They all said they were unable to “plead their case” as Ms. Santos put it. Mr. Scicluna did say, however, that people have told him “corporate wasn’t allowed to talk to individual teachers” about their contracts so they “had a middleman”.
Mr. Bock said he was not aware of any “barrier to communication”.
These teachers are not the only perspective on the redesign, though. Vince Nelson said he is “hopeful” about the upcoming changes.
We have reached out to both Ms. Crouch and Ms. Tavenner, but were redirected by Ms. Crouch and received no response from Ms. Tavenner.