Summits Education Founding Story

Summits Education operates a network of 40 schools in the Central Plateau of Haiti. This is the story about my interest in Haiti, and the founding of Summits in 2015.

After I sold my first company, I went to visit Tom White, a retired builder from Boston. Tom was the money behind the founding of Partners In Health in Haiti, and when I told him I wanted to give away the money I had made, he sent me to visit Haiti with Ophelia Dahl. This was in 2003.

I became fascinated with Haiti. The country had been colonized by the French, but a slave revolt overthrew the French in 1804. (See Wikipedia for more history.) It is the first country in the world run by former slaves. I started to read every book I could find about Haiti, starting with Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, and Infections and Inequalities by Dr. Paul Farmer.

I visited the country many times. Pleasures included the energy and hospitality of the Haitian people, and the natural beauty of the beaches and hills. (I also came to enjoy Barbancourt rum everywhere I went, especially at the Hotel Oloffson on Thursday nights.)

Port au Prince is only a two hour flight from Miami, yet these two worlds could not be more different today - extreme wealth next to an island populated largely with subsistence farmers.

There was much work to be done. I ended up joining the board of PIH, and got involved in supporting their medical work in Haiti for many years.

In 2015, during one of my visits to Haiti, I decided to learn a bit about education, and to see if I could do anything to help. The first idea was to build a high school for serious college-bound students, to be influenced in some ways with my own high school back in Boston.

However, the more time I spent doing research, I realized that the network of primary schools established with PIH over the last 30 years had lost almost all funding. Academic results were poor, and most of the school buildings were dilapidated. Teachers were not showing up for school, as they had not been paid in some time.

Before building a new high school, I decided to form an organization to support these primary schools, giving them financial stability, adding intensive teacher training, forming new partnerships with Universite Quisqueya and University of Notre Dame. My financial partner was the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a long-time supporter of PIH.

Our founding executive Director in Boston was Mike Chambers. Mike shaped the new vision for Summits, and helped bring new partners on board to help us fulfill our mission. (Mike now works with Flying Kites, a network of schools in rural Kenya.)

Summits is run in Haiti by Marie Flores Chipps and her daughter Cassandre Regnier. Their family has been involved in education in Haiti for decades, and in fact, Marie's father Fritz Lafontant cofounded Partner in Health in Haiti in 1984.

Today Summits maintains its commitment to an innovative whole child approach to teaching and learning. With increasing influence in the Haitian education sector, Summits leads the country's Model School Network, a consortium of school systems dedicated to improving standards of pedagogy, delivery and governance. Among Summits' most distinguishing features is its investment in teachers. With most teachers across the country having no formal training, 100% of Summits' 320 teachers have completed a two-year cycle of professional development and nearly all would like more. Steadily improving literacy scores are a testament to the teachers and an ongoing partnership with University of Notre Dame to implement the Read Haiti literacy program in grades 1-3. In conjunction with this program, Summits focused on remedial support to all students with the result of nearly doubling the literacy rate among 2nd to 6th graders in the first year.

See other founder stories. - articles - startups - nonprofits - press 20-Oct-2020