Betsy DeVos sends top official to Idaho charter

RATHDRUM — North Idaho STEM Charter Academy grabbed the attention of the U.S. Department of Education.

A top official in Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ administration flew to North Idaho in September as part of the departments “Rethink School” tour, which aims to highlight innovative models and seeks out schools that do things differently.

“I honestly feel the visit was a tribute to how hard our staff and students work,” said Scott Thomson, the executive director of the school. “We are accomplishing quite a bit.”

Thomson believes state officials pointed the DeVos administration to the charter school because of the innovation happening on campus.

James Blew, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development, met with the school administrators, teachers, students and parents for three hours to hear about the school’s model built around science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Blew wanted to learn how staff is challenging the status quo and taking innovative approaches to student learning.

North Idaho STEM Charter Academy ranks top in the state for SAT scores, with an average score of 1,290 on a 1,600-point scale. The school is also in the top percentile on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test in math (89 percent) and English language arts (80 percent).

“He was very interested in being in the classrooms and seeing the kids in action,” Thomson said.

Blew met with 10 staff members during a round table discussion to learn more about the school’s project-based learning approach.

“This was a sense of pride for the staff and what they have accomplished,” Thomson said.

The “Rethink School” tour is in its second year, sending various department employees to schools across the country. In the end, someone from the department will visit at least one school in each of the lower 48 states to highlight the administrations key education initiatives.

Blew met with state lawmakers in Coeur d’Alene to give an update on the Every Student Succeeds Act before he toured the school.

Blew was confirmed by the Senate in July, after being nominated by President Donald Trump. Prior to joining the Department, Blew advocated for education reform across the country.

His roles included serving as director of the 50CAN affiliate Student Success California, national president of StudentsFirst, and national director of the Alliance for School Choice and its predecessor, the American Education Reform Council.

Blew also helped guide the Walton Family Foundation’s K-12 reform investments for nearly a decade.

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