By Mira Brody CONTENT PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
BIG SKY—As he walks the halls of Big Sky Discovery Academy, Head of Schools Scott Poloff greets each passing student by name. He knows every single one, what grade they’re in and what class they’re headed to. Although unassuming from the outside, nestled in the heart of Big Sky in Town Center adjacent to other anchors of the community—Len Hill Park, The Hungry Moose—the insides of the school are full of mindful activity. And mindfulness is a quality that Poloff has tried to lead the school with since he came on two years ago.
Poloff expects 80 kids to enroll next year, an increase from the current 58, and 16 teachers. The addition of a new early childhood learning classroom will fill a need, he says, that is felt across the state. He says while traditional schools are a bit archaic in their structure, Discovery hopes to stray from that, allowing students flexibility to learn on their own timeline and setting. Each child is registered with the state and county as home schooled, and attends Discovery on a quarter system, meaning they can choose which nine or 18-week schedule they prefer, able to work that around a job, trade school, travel or competitive skiing like many students in Big Sky.
“If you research Montessori education,” explains Poloff. “You see that a big part of Montessori is the responsibility piece. Those kids have a two-hour work cycle in the morning, they choose what they want to work on, when, so they have to get everything done by Friday, but they choose when they want to do so.”
Poloff is confident the framework for education is evolving for the better, an example he hopes to take with the kids of Big Sky.
“It’s very non-traditional,” he said.
And it has been since its founding. Karen and Scott Maybee created Big Sky Discovery Academy in 2014 after they moved here from the Buffalo, New York area, eager to create something different—their own vision of what education could look like. Today, it serves children grades three through 12. Poloff came on two years ago with 20 years of education behind him. Originally from Pennsylvania, he came directly to Montana from teaching in Dubai. Background, he says, is important for building a teaching framework—Poloff tries to keep a diverse staff so that the students, who are also usually moving here from other states, can relate to them.
“I feel like for us, we need to have a staff that kind of matches that type of diversity,” Poloff said. “So when I look at my current staff, we have two that were born and raised in Montana. My art teacher is from California. My science teacher is from Chicago. My high school English teacher is from Colorado. My math teacher is from Texas. I’m from Pennsylvania. And I think what it does is it really allows our staff to kind of connect with our families.”
Another unique aspect of Discovery is that it is a nonprofit. It relies on the support of the community, on local community organizations as well as raising about $300,000 per year in fundraising and donations. Through this support, tuition assistance and scholarships are made available to families—education at his school, says Poloff, should be as attainable as possible to the community. It’s all about providing options.
“I look at it like this—if you get up in the morning with your family and want to ski, you have different options: downhill, cross-country,” Poloff explains. “If you get up in the morning and you want to go eat, you’ve got different options. I feel like education should be the same thing. What fits the needs of our family because if the family’s happy, most likely kids are happy. And if kids are happy, they’re going to succeed in school.”