We were the youngest school by more than 30 years. One school was 113 years our senior. Still, when the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) set out this summer to find seven schools for its first SummitHack cohort in Washington, D.C., University High School made the list.

NAIS sought schools with a high-functioning leadership and board that embraces the imperative to innovate, a desire to have a clear and differentiated identity in their market, a bias toward action, and, most importantly, a relentless focus to do what is best for students. University High School fit the bill.

The charge? Bring a small group of faculty to NAIS headquarters in Washington, D.C. for two days in July. Spend those two days working through NAIS’s framework for innovation – a mountain-climbing metaphor named “Magnetic Mountain” – and leave with an action plan for “summit work” this year and a network of peer schools to guide and support.

“These are seven schools from across the nation that have had cultures of innovation or are in the process of innovating,” said David Vesper, Assistant Head of School. “Tim Fish [Chief Innovation Officer at NAIS] invited University High School to participate in the SummitHack to begin what he hopes is an ongoing dialogue. As we experiment, we will help develop techniques that folks will use nationwide throughout NAIS.”

Other participating schools were Edmund Burke School, Providence Day School, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, Western Reserve Academy, Winchester Thurston School, and Woodside Priory School.

NAIS-SummitHackUniversity High School’s SummitHack team comprised Vesper, history instructor Jake Thurman, science instructor Carolyn Bradley, and science instructor Stacey Summitt-Mann. That “Summit” is part of Stacey Summitt-Mann’s last name was not lost on the group. Nor was the unique composition of our team.

“We were the only school there where every single person at the table taught a class,” noted Thurman. “I think that was apparent in the way we approached and responded to things. ‘Student’ was one of the first words we said, and we were always looking at ideas through the lens of how it impacts teachers and how it impacts the actual kids in our classes.”

Schools who attended the SummitHack in July have committed to ongoing conversations about their innovation work. In addition to regular check-ins via email, groups will connect in person at the NAIS Annual Conference in March 2018.