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Meet our New Executive Director, Laura Tavares

What brought you to WPS?

I started my career as a middle and high school humanities teacher in schools in New York City and Massachusetts, and then spent 15 years in program leadership roles at the non-profit Facing History and Ourselves. I made the leap to WPS in late 2021 because I was drawn to the opportunity to build a new organization with the energy of a startup and an incredible team of colleagues.

The WPS team, and the educators we’ve served, have a shared vision of schools as places of incredible possibility, and a belief that teaching and learning are some of the most transformative and joyful things a person can do. That’s something I wanted to be a part of! Since I joined the team, we’ve redirected our focus to supporting new models of education that catalyze authentic learning within and beyond schools. This means that we’re now working with schools, systems, and communities, not only with individual teachers. Taking on the leadership of the organization last month was exciting, and the timing feels right, because “back to school” season is a time of new beginnings.

What are you excited about in the work of WPS this year?

Much of our work this year is focused on a middle school pilot project in Salem, Massachusetts that’s designed to re-engage students with school and foster a love of learning. We’re working to grow student agency, create community connections, and unlock possibilities through greater personalization. The design that we’re developing with our partners in the district builds on a number of powerful educational ideas, including community learning ecosystems, place-based learning, and the notion of “unbundling” the role of the teacher. We’re partnering very closely on the implementation of the pilot - someone from our team is at the school several days a week - and that proximity gives us such a rich opportunity to learn about what it takes to put great theories into practice in the real world of schools.

When we launched our pilot in Salem, MA, this year, one of the questions we asked community members, families, and partner organizations was “What was an authentic and meaningful learning experience in your own life?” How would you answer that question?

I’m privileged to have attended wonderful schools, from tiny Falmouth Academy (which was itself a somewhat scrappy startup when I was a student there), to Oxford University (which was definitely not!) As a first-generation college student, I never take formal education for granted. But I have to say that my most authentic and meaningful learning experiences have been outside the classroom. For me, travel has always provided the best education. A few years ago, when my children were 8 and 11, we spent four months traveling through Asia on a family sabbatical. The experience taught me how much deep learning can happen without books or computers, simply by slowing down, noticing, questioning, and reflecting together on shared experiences.

PS: I’m just wondering, what does “WPS” stand for?

I’m glad you asked! When we meet new folks, they always have the same question. When our founder first acquired the campus where WPS is based, it was with the idea of establishing a new school, to be called the “Winthrop Park School.” While that vision ultimately evolved in a different direction, we still have the initials “WPS” as the basis of our name.

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