Upper School Academic Life
The intellectual community of the Upper School is characterized by close student-teacher and student-student relationships that foster advanced inquiry, lively discussion around Harkness seminar tables, and deep engagement with ideas. The Upper School’s 75-minute class periods provide time for broad exploration of ideas within each class and each discipline. The schedule also has built-in time during the school day for co-curriculuar activities, studying, and meeting with teachers, and allows for a balanced approach to homework. Students are energetic and informed participants in discussions, nuanced and accountable in their analysis, and articulate in their critique and defense of ideas. The program culminates in seminars that use college-level texts and require substantial independent work.
The Upper School program prepares students exceptionally well for college; discussion-based learning, often around Harkness tables; and a robust system of academic, social, and emotional support.
- The Upper School curriculum offers a challenging and innovative academic program that thoroughly prepares students to excel and lead at the most demanding colleges and universities. SPA has chosen not to offer the designated AP (Advanced Placement) program; rather, by design our classes go well beyond the prescribed AP curriculum in depth and complexity. When SPA students elect to take AP exams, they are very successful: more than half of students who take an AP exam earn a score of 4 or 5, and more than 80% earn a score of 3 or above.
- Discussion-based learning is at the heart of academic life in the Upper School. Humanities classes take place around large Harkness tables, where students understand that they are accountable to both teachers and peers in their preparation and participation. Mathematics and science courses, although they do not take place around Harkness tables, are similarly structured in their depth, complexity, and expectations for student preparation and participation.
- The Upper School's student support systems are extensive. All students are part of a small advisory group led by a teacher/advisor, who is the student's advocate and guide throughout the year. The support network also includes a Dean of Students, a full-time Upper School counselor, three full-time college counselors, the staff of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the student-staffed Peer Helper group.
Meet the Principal: max delgado
Max Delgado began his tenure as Upper School Principal in 2018, after serving for four years as SPA's Upper School Dean of Students. Delgado, who joined SPA in the fall of 2014, originally considered a career in family therapy but an offer to serve as assistant dean at a college preparatory school in California pulled him into secondary education. "There are so many pivot points in adolescence where kids are both guarded and vulnerable as they’re making big decisions about life," Delgado says. "During these years, kids are becoming who they want to be, how they want to be, and I enjoy being at ground zero for that." Delgado earned a B.A. in English from Fordham University and an M.F.A. from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Before coming to Minnesota, he worked as a Care Coordinator and Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Counselor at an adolescent treatment center in Oakland, California. He then transitioned into education where he served as an Associate Dean of Students and Associate Student Life Director at a college preparatory school in Oakland. In 2011, he joined The Blake School in Minneapolis as a grade-level dean, an English teacher, and Director of the LearningWorks at Blake program.