WILDER – Fifty years ago, seven rural Idaho school leaders decided pooling their resources would be the best way to serve their most needy kids. So they formed the Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency, an educational services consortium.
This week, teachers, administrators and alumni are taking time to reflect on the past five decades of serving families in the Canyon-Owyhee area. Part of the reflection includes a 50th anniversary celebration with open houses on Friday, June 14 (3-8 p.m.) and Saturday, June 15 (9 a.m.-9 p.m.). The shops and classrooms will be open for tours and free food and drinks will be provided. COSSA is located at 109 Penny Lane in Wilder.
“Our main job is education,” said Harold Nevill, who has been the CEO of COSSA since 2010.
What exactly is COSSA?
COSSA is a consortium that provides educational services to surrounding communities by centralizing certain programs. It was founded in 1969 to serve students in Homedale, Notus, Parma, Wilder, Marsing, Middleton, and Vallivue. Middleton and Vallivue both left around 20 years ago, but the other five schools continue to rely on COSSA to deliver special services to students.
Today’s COSSA model focuses on the same three programs it did when it was founded — special education, career-technical education and alternative education. COSSA serves approximately 650 students in special education, 135 students in the alternative school and 250 students in its career-technical programs.
The consortium saves those five districts at least $2.5 million a year, said Nevill.
COSSA is the only consortium of its kind in Idaho. Nevill sees their success as a good example of how Idaho education can move forward both effectively and efficiently.
“It could work anywhere,” he said.
One of the three main services COSSA provides is an alternative junior/senior high school, a place where students considered to be “at risk” of not graduating can get a more personalized education program.
COSSA balances graduating students with teaching them life skills so they are employable.
Through various partnerships with community organizations, the school also provides mental health counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, clothing and daycare and maternal mentoring.
“We try to keep track of all these things that we are providing that help our students get through life,” Nevill said. “Without those services, life will interfere. A kid can’t learn if they are hungry. A kid can’t learn if they are homeless.”
Career- and technical-education programs
COSSA’s robust CTE programs include tracks toward certifications in culinary arts, law enforcement, emergency medical technicians, certified nursing assistants, welding and diesel mechanics.
“It is more important, especially now, that these kids come out as life-long learners, because things are going to change. Nobody’s job stays the same,” Nevill said.
COSSA consistently boasts a near 100 percent positive placement rate for its career-technical programs.
Each year, the participating school districts must allocate funding to COSSA based on a calculation using student attendance and enrollment.
COSSA is planning for future growth as well as expanding program offerings. Nevill would like to start a transition program for 18- to 21-year-olds.
“I’d like to focus on life skills and get them to where they live independently,” he said.