Parents and former employees say an elite, private tutoring program for San Diego high school students abruptly closed its doors and owes them thousands of dollars.
On its website, Summa Education boasts that its weekend, after-school and summer "boot camp" programs in Rancho Bernardo and Carmel Valley helped students gain entry to Yale, Columbia, MIT and other top colleges. It advertises that 36 students got perfect SAT scores after taking its courses and tutoring programs.
But tutors and parents interviewed by NBC 7 Investigates said Summa essentially shut down its business in early March, without notice.
Julie Eisenbraun paid Summa almost $1,800 for tutoring for her daughter, a student at
Rancho Bernardo High, including more than $1,200 paid in advance for summer classes.
On March 4, in a letter, Summa notified Eisenbraun and other parents that it was closing its Rancho Bernardo office, effective the following day, and moving all classes to Summa’s Carmel Valley location.
Eisenbraun told Summa that her daughter could not attend classes in Rancho Bernardo, and asked for a refund. She said Summa did not answer her email. When Eisenbraun went to Summa’s Carmel Valley office several days later to pursue her refund request, she said the doors were locked and the blinds closed, and there were no signs or information for parents and students about what had happened.
Eisenbraun said she was frustrated with her inability to get a refund.
“To have no response back, or even to say the classes are cancelled, is unacceptable,” she said. “I think that we just need some answers."
Another parent, who complained about Summa on Yelp!, told NBC 7 Investigates he paid $2,000 for tutoring for his son, who received just three hours of academic coaching before Summa abruptly stopped his son’s program in early March. He said Summa still owes him $1,700.
Brian Devine headed the math department at Summa. Devine, another tutor, and a third former Summa employee said they believe Summa and its top executive, whom two of those former employees identified as as Matthew Garrett, misled employees and parents about Summa’s future and withheld information about its imminent closure.
The two former employees recall a February 16 staff meeting, at which they said Garrett encouraged them to keep sell tutoring packages for Summa’s summer session, even though Summa had already terminated the clerical and support staffers who do much of the work for those sessions. The two employees say Garrett also withheld that information at the February meeting, and waited until early March to inform the staff.
“They should have honestly told us (at that earlier meeting) on February 16 what their plans were,” Devine told NBC 7 Investigates. “If they had told us at that time, then we would have had the opportunity to go out and find other jobs, make other compensations, instead of waiting for that interim period and realize that we're not going to receive a penny for the effort we put in."
Devine also said Garrett hold him Summa would guarantee perfect test scores for any student who enrolled in a tutoring program. Devine said a guarantee like that is unethical.
“I declined immediately to be involved in selling something that,” he said. “I couldn’t be involved in something like that. I’m a math teacher. I’m not Harry Potter. I don’t have a wand that I can wave that’s going to guarantee that.”
Another staffer who attended that meeting recalls Garrett told employees to guarantee parents their child would score a five (the top score) or a four on the test, or get their money back. That former employee told NBC 7 Investigates, “As a teacher, I felt very uncomfortable about guaranteeing a quantitative score.”
Summa Education and Matt Garrett did not respond to emails and phone calls from NBC 7 Investigates.
Eisenbraun, who keeps in touch with other parents who are demanding refunds, said some of them have complained to the Better Business Bureau and the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
Parents could try to get their money back in small claims court, but Eisenbraun says, she'd just be throwing good money away. Still she says she won't stop demanding answers from Summa.
"It's something that we need to fight for, and find out what's going on, and what's going to happen," Eisenbraun said.
Current and former Summa tutors told NBC 7 Investigates a few of them who were paid in advance have continued teaching classes on their own, to fulfill their commitment to their students.
Eisenbraun also said some parents -- who paid by credit card --got partial refunds from their credit card companies.
After we contacted one of Garrett's attorneys, Summa sent parents an unsigned letter, dated March 4. According to the letter, another tutoring company will “administer all of Summa’s classes this summer.” The letter advises them to email that company for more help.
Eisenbraun is skeptical, and said it’s too little, too late. She has already paid thousands more to another company, for her daughter's summer tutoring.
After this story aired, owners of another tutoring program contacted NBC 7 Investigates an said it is offering 20 hours of free academic coaching to families unable to get a refund from Summa Education.
Executives with the company, C2 Education, told NBC 7 Investigates it will give the free tutoring to any family that can document its loss with a receipt issued by Summa in 2016. C2 Education has offices in Scripps Ranch, La Jolla and Rancho Bernardo,
"Everybody can dream bigger and have those goals of what education they want, what college they want to go to, what career they like," Phillip Ayres, C2’s San Diego district manager said. "It's truly about the students, and it's really about just helping the students get to where they want to go."
C2 Education was founded in 1997 by two Harvard University students who offered private tutoring from their dorm room. The company now has more than 140 tutoring centers nationwide.
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