In Chicago, one such outstanding leader is Michelle Navarre of Polaris Charter Academy. As Chicago’s first Expeditionary Learning School, Polaris develops learning expeditions as an in-depth approach to teaching humanities, social studies and science. Expeditionary Learning students learn the same things as every other student – but in a different, hands-on, inquiry-based way, following a rigorous academic curriculum that enables purposeful learning beyond the classroom. Students conduct fieldwork, learn from experts, work collaboratively and create authentic, high-quality final products for audiences beyond the classroom.
When Michelle opened Polaris as principal in 2007, the school served 95% low-income students, just 8% of whom were reading at grade level. The winner of a prestigious Golden Apple Award for her success as a classroom teacher, Michelle prioritized raising the academic bar and supporting her teachers to implement a rigorous academic program at the school. Polaris co-founder Roel Vivit, a fellow New Leader and also a Golden Apple Award winner, serves as assistant principal, creating a strong school leadership team that is on the same page in their support of students.
Together, Michelle and Roel have worked to ensure that every classroom in Polaris has an excellent teacher and that every teacher is supported and developed to drive results for their students. Teachers at the school have an average of more than 8 years of teaching experience, with a retention rate of 90%. The strength and dedication of the staff allows students to develop long-term relationships with teachers. Teachers and students are able to accelerate learning with minimal time required to establish classroom routines and behavior expectations.
This has paid off: Polaris students’ reading scores on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) have increased 34 percentage points, exceeding Chicago Public Schools’ average in reading, math and science. This year, 42 out of 49 students in Polaris’ first graduating class of 8th graders qualified for selective-enrollment high schools, reflecting how dramatically these students’ lives have changed as a result of their experiences at Polaris.
Michelle describes with pride the inclusive, supportive culture of Polaris, the strength and commitment of her teaching and administrative staff, the growth of her students, and the validation of the school’s success through the Chicago Public Schools charter renewal process, during which they were the only school out of 46 charters to receive a perfect renewal score.
Every student in Chicago deserves a Michelle in his or her school. New Leaders believes that supporting education is the most important thing we can do for our children and for our country–and that making sure every school has a great leader and leadership team is the best way to start. This school year, thanks to your support, we are training 60 teacher leaders and 28 future principals like Michelle right here in Chicago with the same grit and determination to see their students succeed no matter what. Thank you for joining us and supporting this work.
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