The Founders’ Story
It has been over a decade since two concerned dads came together for a conversation that would sow the seeds of what would eventually lead to The Summit Academy. Julian Malcolm, who at the time was employed in the defense technology industry, called a parent/teacher conference with Patrick Looby, who was a Catholic school teacher. The topic of the conversation soon digressed into a general conversation about some of the challenges and troubling trends in contemporary education; specifically, the cultural and academic gaps they had both observed. The immediate result of the conversation was a friendship that would eventually lead to a partnership.
Through subsequent conversations and a good deal of independent study and research, Julian and Pat recognized that while modern education seemed to place a great deal of emphasis on the acquisition of practical skills, it was also well documented that mainstream education reforms and initiatives had, if not effected, then at least coincided with a massive decline in students’ achievement levels. The deeper problem: students are not equipped with the critical thinking skills that are vital to developing their reasoning abilities so that they can consider questions of meaning and purpose. In prioritizing pragmatism over the cultivation of wisdom, the outcome of modern education has been to build an artificial wall that divides practical skills from the development of a moral intellectual capacity so that both are neglected. Another divide could be noted. Despite the best intentions of many dedicated and generous educators, contemporary education models have resulted in a divide between families and schools.
Like many others, Julian and Pat knew there must be a better way. Catholic education should be more than what essentially amounts to public school with a little bit of morality and religious education tacked on. Parents should be offered a partnership in their role as the primary educators of their children and students should be offered an education that extends beyond the mere presentation of content, but also equips them to make sense of reality as they encounter it in the world.
In the years that followed, Julian and Pat set out on an academic and spiritual journey that would lead them through the world of “Catholic Liberal Arts Education.” Julian left his tech job and started a full-time study for his Master’s in Theology from the John Paul II Institute in DC. He and Pat continued to lead retreats and give talks to local youth groups, and even develop an Adult Catechesis class which ran for two semesters at St. Patrick Church. The ultimate goal was to get to know families and to see where the academic needs were in the community.
Eventually, they determined that Catholic parents had a strong desire for an educational solution that would be deeply enriching for their children. Such an education would employ a classical or “Great Books” curriculum and it would be rooted in an authentic Catholic understanding of the human person; made for freedom, and ultimatum destined for beatitude. While maintaining that it is vital for students to be provided proper content and material, an education that is worthy of their dignity should also inspire teenagers to wonder about the world and realize that learning should lead to freedom and happiness. In essence, they came to realize that a Liberal Arts education could be… liberating.
As they continued their research, Julian and Pat looked at their practical options. Although Fredericksburg has been blessed with comparatively good schools, they were convicted that there were grounds to begin to pursue a bold approach to education. As their inquiry began to move from the theoretical to the actionable, they began to envision an entirely new Catholic Classic Liberal Arts high school in their community of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
They sought out advice from other educators across the country who had traveled down similar roads, starting independent Catholic Classical Curriculum schools from the ground up as well as those who had utilized partnership, networked, or franchised models to start new schools. Ultimately, they concluded that a school will always reflect the ethos of its community. So, rather than adopt an educational template created by someone outside the community, a school should have an element of subsidiarity as a prioritization of what is unique to its locality. They also strongly believed that a school should have room to not only embody the character of its faculty and teachers, but should also grow and develop in partnership with parents and students.
In 2016, Julian and Pat took a momentous leap of faith – leaving their full-time jobs to start The Summit Academy: a new, uniquely Classical Liberal Arts high school in the Catholic tradition. The mission: to partner with parents by assisting with their vocational calling to form their sons and daughters in Christian virtue so that they become mature, responsible young adults who are equipped to engage the world.
The student body began in 2016 with just 16 students. In response to parents in the Fredericksburg community desiring a Catholic Classical Liberal Arts education for younger students, The Summit Academy expanded with a hybrid middle-school program in 2019. By the start of the 2022-2023 school year, just six years (and 1 pandemic) after its founding, The Summit Academy had grown to over 100 students.
The Summit Academy community is very grateful that the tiny seed planted many years ago has grown into a fruitful, branching tree. We are looking forward to watching it continue to develop and mature in the coming years.