Charter commission waives accreditation requirement for Peace Valley

Peace Valley Charter School will retain its charter, at least for a handful of months, despite failing to meet the terms of its authorizing agreement with the state. 

The Public Charter School Commission — Peace Valley’s authorizer — voted Thursday to waive a condition of its charter renewal agreement with the Waldorf-style school in Boise. 

One of the state’s lowest performing charters for academics, Peace Valley was supposed to obtain accreditation this year. Accreditation is not required for elementary and middle schools in Idaho. But when it opened in 2018, Peace Valley penned a deal with the commission to make accreditation a condition of its charter. 

The commission last year renewed the charter through 2028, as long as the school was accredited by next month. The Idaho Department of Education’s accrediting body rejected Peace Valley’s application this year. The school lacks “processes for consistently monitoring and evaluating learner progress,” accreditors wrote, according to Peace Valley’s presentation to the commission Thursday.

While the school’s test scores remain poor, Peace Valley leaders laid out an action plan for improvement. That includes restructuring school leadership and bolstering professional development for teachers. The school is shifting from developing “Waldorf-trained teachers” to developing teachers who can “evaluate and improve academic outcomes.”

Commissioners considered revoking Peace Valley’s charter, but they ultimately voted to waive the accreditation requirement and reevaluate the school on other terms later this year. 

“Accreditation is not the hill I want this school to die on,” said commissioner and board vice chairwoman Sherrilynn Bair. 

Pete Koehler

Only commissioner Pete Koehler voted to revoke the charter. Koehler grilled Peace Valley administrators and questioned why the school is just now establishing measurements for learning growth. “Why has it taken so long to arrive here?”

“The commission recognized very early on that the children were not getting the academic rigor that was the expectation,” Koehler said. 

The school’s charter has several other conditions — related to finances, school governance and literacy. Those conditions, which will be reevaluated in November, are “truly germain to our mission,” said commissioner  Wanda Quinn. 

Commissioners voted 1-4 on Koehler’s motion, rejecting his attempt to set a revocation hearing for the school. Then they unanimously voted to waive the accreditation requirement. 

“I encourage you to get things together,” board chairman Alan Reed told the school leaders. “We’re going to look at you again in November, and it may be a different discussion.”

Peace Valley, located on the Boise Bench, has 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

North Idaho charter adding sections amid huge waitlist 

In other business Thursday, the charter school commission approved Kootenai Classical Academy’s request to add 50 new students to satisfy growing demand. 

The charter school in Post Falls has more than 840 kids on its waiting list. “Our demand has been incredible up here,” said Headmaster Ed Kaitz. “We have a tremendous support network of parents, city officials.”

The commission — Kootenai Classical Academy’s charter authorizer — unanimously approved the school’s request to add one section to both the eighth and ninth grade levels. Enrollment for those grade levels will increase from 25 to 50 students, with two sections in each grade level. 

Currently, the academy serves only K-8 students but school leaders already planned to expand to ninth grade in 2024-25. The academy’s student population is expected to go from 428 to 532 next school year. 

And its charter agreement calls for phased enrollment increases, capped at 702 students in 2030. By then, school is expected to serve kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Commission approves new charter performance certificate, framework

The commission also adopted a new performance certificate and framework to align with House Bill 422, the overhaul of charter school regulations that the Legislature enacted earlier this year. 

The performance certificate is essentially a school’s charter, the contract between the school and its authorizer. The performance framework, on the other hand, sets the metrics by which a school will be evaluated. 

Among the most significant changes, according to commission director Jacob Smith, was narrowing performance measures in the framework. For example, a charter school’s governance structure will no longer be graded as “exceeds standard” or “approaches standard,” only whether it meets a standard or doesn’t. 

The new performance certificate also includes new language that says the commission will “conduct oversight activities” for a charter but “in a manner that does not unduly inhibit the autonomy of the school.” 

Ryan Suppe

Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business for newspapers in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. A Nevada native, Ryan enjoys golf, skiing and movies. Follow him on Twitter: @ryansuppe. Contact him at [email protected]

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