Principal Michelle Trojan Implements a New Educational Model in Her Community
Michelle Trojan remembers being a young girl and going to Shannon Lumber, a local lumber shop, with her grandfather where the Intrinsic Belmont campus stands today. Born and raised in Chicago’s Kilbourn Park, she recalls Intrinsic’s beams, cafeteria and gym all being original to the building’s structure.
The school’s direct connection to her upbringing is the main reason she joined the Intrinsic community.
“When I heard of Intrinsic’s mission, I knew I needed to return to the neighborhood I grew up in to help provide a free and excellent education to families that choose us.”
Before becoming principal of Intrinsic, Trojan taught U.S. History for four years at the Noble Network of Charter Schools and spent a year as their Dean of Students.
Trojan really valued the experience of having a regularly scheduled period of time to meet with her group of mentees, known as an advisory, through their four years and until graduation. Not only was she able to witness their growth, but she grew with them: “It was really powerful to have had them since freshman year. I was fortunate to stand on stage and read my speech in front of their loved ones and to celebrate their accomplishments with their families.”
Getting to know her advisory and their families’ through the four years, Trojan learned the importance of relationship building and fostering connections with all members in the community.
Trojan brought her learnings to Intrinsic where she prioritizes and values having a strong school community.
“Our school is open to anyone in the city of Chicago to apply from seventh to 12th grade. We have found that families are choosing Intrinsic. The word of mouth is so powerful: We have siblings, cousins, family and friends.”
Trojan believes developing strong relationships with every stakeholder, from students to families, is the key to becoming a school of choice.
Even Intrinsic’s mission is executed alongside the community. “It is really important to prepare our students for post-secondary success and world changing endeavors. We have a team of staff members who serve as our post-secondary counselors from ninth to 12th grade.”
“What’s so important about Intrinsic’s model is that we do this in partnership with the families. They are essential in this conversation we’re having with the student about their post-secondary plans because all stakeholders need to be a part of the process in preparing students for their futures.”
In order to best prepare students for their world-changing endeavors, Intrinsic implements a non-traditional personalized learning experience with technology integration.
“All of our English and math classes happen in a pod space and this is a really large classroom space with 65 students and three teachers. Within those three teachers, there are two general educational teachers and one special education teacher. All teachers teach all students and students move flexibly throughout the space.”
Trojan emphasizes the importance of personalization being a shared task between teachers and students to develop student agency: “Students are setting their own goals, monitoring progress and managing their time within the pod space. Teachers shift from content providers to facilitators of deep thinking.”
When the pod space was being constructed, students’ and teachers’ feedback was included in the very design process allowing for the space to better reflect their shared goal of carrying out a personalized experience.
Technology integration helps take this new educational model to the next level. “We are a 1:1 school and all students receive Chromebooks upon entry. We use technology to enhance the learning experience and facilitate an authentic learning process,” Trojan shared.
It has taken strong joint efforts by all community members to make Intrinsic’s mission a reality. The Intrinsic charter high school has earned a Level 1+ rating by CPS and in 2019, the Intrinsic network opened its second campus in the very heart of Downtown Chicago.
For the past two years, Trojan has helped run a PLC alongside Intrinsic’s CEO, Melissa Zaikos, on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) where she collaborates and shares resources with other school leaders across the city on DEI work.
Trojan deeply values this experience because through the mutual vulnerability of school principals and meaningful conversations, solutions to problems in school culture have been achieved. “It’s so important to continue to surround yourself with people who provide diverse perspectives.”
At Intrinsic, nothing is ever done alone. Planning for the upcoming school year, Trojan will be utilizing the advisory experience at the school to create a space for students to also have critical conversations on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Principal Trojan has returned to her roots to advance a new educational model that creates opportunities for students of Chicago through a personalized educational approach enhanced by an inclusive community.