Meet September #MICharter Hero: Dan Bartels from Excel Charter Academy

Kyra Biscarner
Sep 6, 2023 11:40:46 AM

For Dan Bartels, the principal at Excel Charter Academy in Grand Rapids, he knew he wanted to teach from a young age.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher back in high school; both of my parents were teachers. I’m one of seven with six brothers and sisters and my parents also fostered many kids so I always knew I loved being around kids and wanted to teach” Dan said. 

It isn’t just Dan who can see his love for interacting with children and teaching, his nomination said the way he cares for staff, students and parents at Excel is what really sets him apart from other school leaders. 

As a principal, Dan Bartels is a superhero who wears many capes. He is exceptional in how much he cares about people and how much pressure he puts on himself to get it right. He led our school through the pandemic, teacher shortages, and countless other challenges. He encourages us to make our school the best choice for parents and their children. He motivates and rallies staff. He laughs with us. He treats people the way he wants to be treated - ALWAYS. He is patient, kind, funny and thoughtful. I think what sets him apart is his insistence on academic AND moral excellence. He leads us to teach kids' minds and their hearts. We are so lucky to have him as our leader.

Dan was able to see how special Excel was from early on in his career. Dan said after teaching at a few other schools, including a school in Lima, Peru, his sister convinced him to come teach at Excel. 

As a student myself, I had been overseas. For sixth, seventh and tenth grade my parents took our family down to Lima, Peru and I fell in love with being in a different country and gave me a good world view. Of course, they speak Spanish in Peru and Spanish ended up being my minor  in college. After graduation, I taught Math in Lima, Peru for a year. I then taught at North Pointe Christian High School for a year. Right after that year, my sister who was a year older, told me about Excel Charter Academy. She was one of the very first teachers at Excel. I came over to Excel and discovered how special the school was.” 

For Dan, the specialness Excel had relied a lot on the vision of the school. Dan said the sense of community and being able to support students, staff and parents makes his job worth it. 

I love the vision that our school has. Together as a staff and parents, we are working towards helping students feel safe, loved, secure and to learn. When that comes together, it becomes a really special place. When you're smiling, opening car doors at drop off in the morning and they’re able to get three or four high fives from staff members before even entering the classroom, that warms my heart and lets me know that we’re setting out to do what we’re supposed to do. We’re creating a safe, orderly, positive environment for kids where they can thrive.” 

Inside Excel, you will find a wall full of the past graduating classes. Some of these photos even feature students who now teach at Excel. Dan said he hopes those students who leave Excel will take away that they are valued and success isn’t always defined in one way or another. 

I hope they take the fact that they are valuable and they matter. Success isn’t defined necessarily by a snapshot of a test score or an athletic moment or a concert moment at school. It is defined by what their character is and their willingness to put in hard work. It is defined by the ability to keep going day after day, being the best version of themselves. To that end, I hope they take away feeling confident in who they are and believing in themselves.” 

Dan’s favorite part of his job? Seeing his students thrive. 

I love helping students thrive with learning, it warms my heart when I see it.”

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