Portfolio Member Spotlight

Breaking down the classroom walls.

Intrinsic Schools

“Intrinsic has allowed me to meet the needs of ALL of my students.”

– Ms. Madi, 10th grade English

“Intrinsic is very diverse and open to everybody. It helps you create friendships with people from all backgrounds.”

– Kevin, 10th grade

“Intrinsic has allowed me to be myself—You’re not worried about people judging you. You’re comfortable.”

– Alex, 9th grade

“Intrinsic is more than kids and teachers. It’s like a living organism.”

– Ms. Phelps, 11th grade advisor

Innovative architecture. Classroom technology. Personalized learning plans. This is the future of public education.

Gone are the days of lengthy blackboard lectures and desks in straight rows. For students at Intrinsic Schools in Chicago, “pods” are the new normal. Founded in 2013, Intrinsic’s intentional school design provides secondary school students with flexible, studio-style classrooms with areas for independent work, project based-learning, direct instruction, and discussion.

For students at Intrinsic Schools in Chicago, “pods” are the new normal“It was really important for us to match the physical space to what we wanted the students to do to prepare for post-secondary success,” explains Melissa Zaikos, Intrinsic founder and former chief of elementary schools for 31 schools within the Chicago Public Schools Pershing Network.

Some students excel in the “coastline,” a pod area designed for independent online work, featuring curriculum from Khan Academy, ThinkCerca, and NoRedInk. Others prefer the “ocean,” an open, comfortable group space built for projects and collaboration. The “board,” an area with large smart boards and desks, gives teachers instructional pod space to teach small groups of students.

Technology drives all lesson planning and “pod” learning at Intrinsic. Teachers use software they call “mastery trackers” to monitor students’ proficiency in various subjects. They group and regroup students by mastery levels and provide personalized, direct instruction based on the needs of each student.

Parents, teachers, and students collaborate to create individualized six-year learning plansDuring independent class time, students use Chromebook computers to complete online coursework. For group activities, they use Google Docs and Drive to share ideas and complete collaborative projects.

At Intrinsic, parents, teachers, and students collaborate to create individualized six-year learning plans for each student’s post-secondary success. Empowered to take ownership of their education, students set and track educational goals, lead their own student-teacher conferences, set curriculum pacing, and monitor their progress along the way.

Having worked at Chicago Public Schools for nine years before founding Intrinsic, Zaikos is passionate about the future of Chicago public education. “We want to continue to refine what we’re doing and share it back.”

Visit Intrinsic's Website

Intrinsic Schools

Year Founded


CSGF Portfolio Member Since



Chicago, IL

Number of Schools

2014: 1
End of CSGF Growth Plan: 5


83% Low Income
95% Minority

CSGF’s Financial Support of Intrinsic Schools

Intrinsic is a “next generation” portfolio member that is pioneering a new way to personalize student learning. CSGF provided Zaikos with financial and advisory support to open the first Intrinsic school. We then made a multi-year commitment to help the organization to launch five new schools in Chicago and serve a total of 3,000 students.

“The support from CSGF allowed Intrinsic to begin as a professional organization well beyond what I could have developed alone. The CSGF network, startup funds, and insight into how well-run charters operate made transitioning from a successful district leader to a successful charter leader much easier.”

–Melissa Zaikos, CEO & Founder