What Personalized Learning Means to a Mother and Educator

I’m Diane Tavenner and I’ve had the privilege of leading Summit Public Schools since 2003. I’m a lifelong educator who started teaching in public schools in 1994. More importantly, I’m the mother to my fourteen-year-old son, Rett. Summit is now a network of ten schools with over 3,000 students and Rett is a ninth grader at Summit Denali.

Public education is personal for me. I grew up in a poor, rural community, in a home marked by physical and emotional abuse. I wanted a different life and thanks to a few great teachers, I was able to make it to college when most others around me did not. I was lucky. I don’t think children should have to win the lottery to achieve their dreams. I think every child should have the opportunity to realize their full potential.

Making this belief a reality is what we’ve been doing at Summit for almost fifteen years. We started with the core idea that every child is unique with individual goals and dreams. Our role as educators and mentors is to ready each child to pursue their passions as they enter adulthood.

I remember having one 20 minute appointment with my high school counselor to discuss my future. As one of hundreds, he didn’t know anything about me. Sadly, this experience is the norm, but not because counselors and educators don’t care, but because they don’t have the tools they need to do it differently. I formed a partnership in 2014 with Facebook to change that.

In early 2014, I realized that no matter how passionate and dedicated Summit educators were about sharing everything we’ve built with our peers across the country, we just couldn’t make it happen on our own. We managed to hire one engineer who worked tirelessly to build our Summit Personalized Learning Platform (PLP) into a tool that supported our own schools. But, to turn the Summit PLP into something everybody could use, we needed a far bigger and more specialized team. There are few companies in the world with as much engineering expertise as Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg is passionate about educational opportunities for all and the Facebook team was interested in learning more about the role of technology in education. They were inspired by what we were accomplishing at Summit. When Facebook offered to provide engineering support for Summit’s drive to make the PLP more broadly available, I was thrilled. I’ve seen up close how personal this is for the folks at Facebook who support Summit. Some are former educators and all know the power of great teachers. They spend a lot of time in classrooms listening to and working with teachers so they can build an even better experience for students.

As a parent, I want to make sure the technology my son uses in school empowers his teachers and supports his learning. As both a parent and Summit’s leader, student data privacy and security are my top priorities. These non-negotiable principles guide our work:

  • Summit operates the Summit Personalized Learning Platform, and it’s not a business. We’re a nonprofit public school that’s committed to offering the Summit PLP for free. There are no ads in the Summit PLP and student data isn’t used for advertising. Summit does not, and will not, sell student data, or seek to make money in any way from public schools, teachers, students or parents. We’re proud signatories to the Future of Privacy Forum’s White House-endorsed Student Privacy Pledge.
  • An independent engineering team at Facebook works for Summit. We’re collaborating with a small but dedicated team of engineers at Facebook who work alongside Summit educators to improve the Summit PLP and make it more effective for teachers, students, and parents. This team operates independently from the rest of Facebook — we permit them access to student data only as necessary to help us provide and improve the Summit PLP. In addition to the strict privacy controls we put in place, members of this team undergo extra privacy training on educational privacy requirements. The Summit PLP does not require a Facebook account and is completely separate from the rest of Facebook. And, like Summit, Facebook does not and will not use Summit PLP student data for advertising.
  • We protect student data as if it were our own. We use the Summit PLP in our own schools and work tirelessly to keep student data safe. For example, we store Summit PLP data on Amazon Web Services which is one of the most reliable and trusted hosts. Summit encrypts student data in transit and at rest. As a public school, we take the obligations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) very seriously and have designed the Summit PLP to be compliant with FERPA. We operate as a “school official” under FERPA and contract with a small number of service providers, including Facebook, to operate the Summit PLP and offer it to other schools. We require these service providers to have comprehensive data protection measures in place.

Summit is committed to sharing everything we’re doing and learning with fellow educators. My team is emphatic about ensuring that teachers, parents and students have full access to the curriculum, tools and training they need to personalize learning in their own schools.

As a mom and the leader of this very special community, I welcome your questions, feedback, thoughts and dreams. I wake up every morning thinking about how we can do better for all kids. I would love to hear your ideas. You can email me at talkwithdiane@summitps.org.

I hope to hear from you.

With much respect,

Diane Tavenner