The Heart & Science of Learning: Model Partnership

Posted by Jane Daniel - 28 February, 2018

Rick Baker-crop.jpg

"The whole school is better today than it was before the merger.  It has truly been a case of 1+1=3. Whenever you can do this and affect a child’s ability to learn, it’s a real gain."

- Rick Baker, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Summit School

The Randolph community had the opportunity, on the evening of February 20, to attend a Q&A with Rick Baker, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Summit School, to learn about Summit’s merger with Triad Academy. This merger has served as a model for Randolph and Greengate School as the two schools have explored a similar partnership. Mr. Baker visited with the Randolph and Greengate school communities to explain the ideas behind his school's merger, the process, and the benefits.

Summit is an outstanding independent school in Winston-Salem, N.C. In 2012, the School merged with Triad Academy, a small school with a nationally accredited Orton-Gillingham program serving students with dyslexia. 

It is estimated that 15-20% of the population has dyslexia or a language-based learning difference. Reading difficulties are often discovered in and around 2nd or 3rd grade. Intervention and intensive tutoring, often using the Orton-Gillingham approach, can help bright students with dyslexia acquire the tools needed to be successful in their educational and professional lives, yet there are only 14 Orton-Gillingham accredited schools in the nation. Both Greengate and Triad are among them.

Rick Baker was a trustee of Triad Academy, a school similar to Greengate, which served students with dyslexia, when they began discussions about a possible merger with Summit School. Six years later, Rick is still very involved and currently serves as the Chair of the Summit Board of Trustees.  Randolph and Greengate trustees and administrators have gotten to know Rick through visits to Summit over the past 18 months, and accepted his generous offer to travel to Huntsville and share their experiences with our school communities.

Background to Summit-Triad merger

Summit School was founded 1933 and serves students in grades PK-9.  At the time of the merger with Triad, it served approximately 500 students, and found itself needing tools to best help bright students who were struggling readers. Triad was a small school on the outskirts of town. The school offered a solid O-G program, but lacked appropriate co-curricular offerings. They were struggling to grow beyond 50-60 students. Triad drew about a third of their students from Summit School and offered after-school tutoring to others. Through the merger, both schools grew their enrollments and are now a combined school of 640, with siblings able to attend school together, and all Summit students receiving the support they need. 

Q&A with Rick Baker 

What were the benefits of a merger to students from Triad and Summit?

The whole school is better today than It was before the merger.  It has truly been a case of “1+1=3.”  Whenever you can do this and affect a child’s ability to learn, it’s a real gain.

For the students who are in the Triad program, they receive the individual or small group instruction they need and are now able to partake fully in school life, from lunch, to arts, to athletics. 

Summit students benefit from a curriculum that incorporates more learning by doing, more maker labs, and fewer lectures. All Summit Lower School teachers have been trained in O-G and are more easily able to identify earlier students who may benefit from early intervention. The emphasis on professional development for Summit teachers has been heightened.   

How is the program structured? 

Triad is a division of Summit School.  Students in the Triad division receive O-G instruction in their core classes, but join other Summit students for co-curricular offerings (art, physical education, etc.), as well as for lunch, class trips, and after school activities.  We are one school with different divisions. The time a student spends in the Triad division varies depending on the individualized need of each child.  When students are ready to leave Triad, most stay at Summit, with about 90% of Triad students and their siblings being retained.  Students who have completed the Triad program are finding great success, both at Summit and beyond.  They have the tools they need and the ability to advocate for themselves in ways that benefit them for a lifetime. 

We also offer a very successful summer camp program which brings students from around the region to campus for several weeks each summer. Additionally, Triad administrators and teachers train others in the O-G method, so we are having a profound effect on our wider community as well.

letters.jpgHow has the perception of dyslexia changed as a result of your merger? 

We work diligently to educate our school population and wider community about dyslexia.  Through seminars, simulations, and on-going educational programs, we are learning more each day about this learning difference. Dyslexia is something to celebrate and many dyslexics have extraordinary success: 35% of entrepreneurs and 40% of self-made millionaires are dyslexic. They have problem-solving skills, grit, creativity, resilience, and navigate for success.  Examples of successful dyslexics include Charles Schwab, Paul Orfalea, Henry Winkler, and Richard Branson. If you consider how the economic model is shifting to favor entrepreneurship, creativity and problem-solving, these kids can be a huge part of it.

How has the merger affected Summit’s reputation in the community?

The merger has enhanced Summit’s standing in the wider community.  We are seen as more inclusive and welcoming and are more widely recognized as an educational thought leader.  The school has become a magnet for our region, drawing students from a much wider geographical range. 

What was the biggest barrier you faced?

Our biggest hurdle was financial.  We had to retrofit a building on a short timeframe, while preparing for the many aspects of the merger.  An angel philanthropist allowed this to happen, but we still had to raise funds for other costs, including legal and accounting fees, marketing, and tuition assistance to support Triad students.

What have been the effects of the merger on your ability to raise philanthropic support for both schools?

It has always been positive from a fundraising standpoint. The Triad program has drawn more support from companies, individuals, and foundations who will support needs-based programs. And Summit has not seen any negative effects of competition for philanthropic dollars.  Support for both programs is strong.

Is tuition for students in the Triad Division the same as for other Summit divisions? 

No; tuition for students in the Triad division is a premium above the Summit tuition, just over 30% higher.  This is needed to cover the costs of the individualized instruction and smaller teacher-student ratio.  From the beginning, we agreed that the Triad program would be self-supporting, and it is.

What final words would you offer the Randolph and Greengate communities as we consider this partnership? 

This is all challenging to think about.  There is a lot of work, and you will ask yourselves, “Is it worth it?”  From my perspective, our partnership has been pure magic.  Our merged program has continued to deliver since 2012.  Make the leap and I believe you will be very happy. 

Interested in learning more?

Many Randolph families have participated in Head of School roundtables to learn more about our prospective partnership with Greengate School.  Additional roundtables are scheduled on March 2 and 6.  Here is the registration link.

Additional resources:

What is dyslexia?

What is the Orton-Gillingham approach? 

What are Orton-Gillingham accredited schools?

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia

Photo: Head of School Jay Rainey, Summit Board Chair Rick Baker, and Randolph Board Chair Brian Pollock

Topics: dyslexia, Huntsville school, strategic plan, Greengate, orton-gillingham

Recent Posts

Senior Spotlight: Eve Schoenrock '18

read more

Difference-Maker: Melissa Tucker '04

read more

The Heart & Science of Deep Learning in Middle School

read more