NEWS

Protecting Student Privacy in a Time of Uncertainty

A Letter from Summit Public Schools’ Co-Founder and CEO

I’ve dedicated much of my life to teaching children how to prepare for life beyond school. I have seen a great deal of change in the last twenty five years, but the realities of data and security today have taken teaching and parenting into directions few could have foreseen in 2003, when I opened Summit Public Schools’ first high school.

As an educator, I know these realities raise the bar for us to make sure we are doing everything possible to protect students’ personal information and build trust with families and schools.

Here is what I want everyone to know about our work:

  • Your students’ information is safe. All of the personal information students share (or that is provided about them by their school) is used only for educational purposes. Schools, students, and families own and control their personal information and can request deletion of personal student information at any time.
  • Summit will never sell student information and does not profit from schools, teachers, and students.  Not only are we absolutely opposed to using student information in this way, but as a nonprofit there is no reason for us to do so.
  • Summit is a network of public schools. We are not a for-profit or educational technology company. We are educators who have nearly two decades of experience operating public schools in California and Washington State.  
  • Summit Learning is not a technology platform or an online program. It is a comprehensive teaching and learning approach that combines more than a century of science and research on learning with Summit’s 15 years of experience graduating all students college ready. Summit Learning was designed to facilitate strong relationships between teachers and students. The Platform is only a tool that supports teaching and learning in the classroom.
  • Summit Public Schools controls the Summit Learning Platform. To develop the Platform, we lean on the expertise of some of the world’s finest engineers through a partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). Formerly, from 2015-2017, Summit partnered with a small, independent group of engineers at Facebook to co-build the Platform. Facebook does not have access to the Summit Learning Platform or student data.  
  • Summit Public Schools operates the Summit Learning Program; schools across the country partner directly with Summit, and Summit alone.  The Program — which offers schools the tools, resources, and professional development to implement Summit Learning in their communities — is free, thanks to philanthropic donations. CZI provides pro-bono engineering support to help power the Platform.
  • Summit goes above and beyond legal compliance. Summit is a signatory to the Future of Privacy Forum’s Student Privacy Pledge and follows the set of principles established to safeguard student privacy, including responsible stewardship, protection, and transparent handling of student information. In addition, Summit voluntarily complies with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). While COPPA does not apply to nonprofits, we feel it is important to voluntarily embrace these requirements to provide increased transparency to parents.

I have a unique perspective on this conversation. I wear three hats.

The first is as an educator. I started my career 25 years ago as a teacher in Los Angeles before becoming the founding principal of Summit’s first school, Summit Prep, in 2003. Today, Summit has 11 schools in California and Washington that serve more than 3,000 families. We are dedicated to nurturing students’ creativity, supporting their academic growth, and helping them discover their passions.

The second role I play is as the head of the nonprofit Summit Public Schools, which developed and supports the Summit Learning Program. Today, the Program supports 330 schools across 40 states. I have personally and deeply engaged with educators from across these diverse communities.

Regardless of the schools they teach in or the communities they serve, we share the same hope for all of our students: we want to prepare them with much more than just “the basics”.  We all want all our students to graduate with the skills and habits that will enable them to go on and lead deeply fulfilling lives.

Finally — and most importantly — I am a mother. My son is a 10th-grade student at Summit Public Schools: Denali. He entered Summit Denali as a 6th grader, and was among the first students to use the Summit Learning Platform.  

 

student privacy
Summit’s Co-founder and CEO Diane Tavenner holds her son, who is now a student at Summit Public Schools: Denali.

 

Like every parent, I am deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of my child. I worry about his physical and emotional safety. I worry about his academic well-being and his personal development as he moves closer and closer to adulthood. I worry whether he has eaten right, gotten enough exercise, and has healthy friendships. I worry if he has brushed his teeth and washed his face — if he is getting enough sleep and if he is going to be a safe driver. I also worry about how he is engaging with technology, and more specifically what he is sharing, where he is posting, and with whom he communicates.

In essence, I do what many parents do; I worry about my child because I love him so very much.

What I do not worry about is my son’s privacy and security as he uses the Summit Learning Platform. Unlike so many of the other worries I have, this is one I control. I know exactly how he and all of the other children using the Platform are protected.  

Our Privacy Resource Center makes everything transparent by including our 2018-19 Program Agreements, as well as answers to Frequently Asked Questions about how we protect student information. We do this so parents and family members can have as clear and accessible an understanding of our policies and security practices as I do. This year, we’ve spent months working with privacy experts and seeking ideas from parents and educators about the many ways we can be more transparent and help you understand this work.

As a result, we’ve:

  • Provided greater clarity about what student information is collected in the Summit Learning Platform, how it is used, and how it is protected. We added a Data Privacy Addendum to the Program Agreement, which is modeled after the Student Data Privacy Consortium’s model contract provisions. This consortium of schools, districts, state agencies, trade organizations, and technology providers has developed a contractual framework to help create best practices, predictability, and clarity around privacy contract terms to aid teachers, school districts, and other collaborators in the field.
  • Increased transparency about the service providers that support the operation and development of the Summit Learning Platform and the related Services. Service providers — including those that provide web hosting, software engineering, and other services — are required to comply with our Privacy Policy, meaning that they must have the same protections in place as we do. We published a list of these providers, which includes details on what information is disclosed or received from these service providers and partners.
  • Strengthened security by putting in place additional physical, technical, and administrative safeguards to protect the information in the Summit Learning Platform. These safeguards prevent unauthorized access, disclosure, or improper use of information.
  • Simplified our Terms of Service by adding plain English summaries of legal language where appropriate.

I hope our privacy and security measures — and the seriousness with which I approach this work — provide reassurance about participating in the Summit Learning Program. As both an educator and a mom, I believe we can safeguard student privacy while providing teachers with the tools to personalize instruction so every child has the education they deserve.

I also know there is always room for improvement, so I want to be in conversation with you about how we can get better. If you have questions, feedback, ideas for how to improve what we do, or if you just want to talk with a fellow parent, I hope you will email me at talkwithdiane@summitps.org.

 

With much respect,

Diane Tavenner

About the author

Diane Tavenner
Diane Tavenner
Diane Tavenner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, a leading public school system that operates 11 schools in California and Washington, as well as a free program that enables schools across the U.S. to implement Summit Learning, its nationally recognized personalized approach to teaching and learning.