A McCall area charter school, first approved by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission in 2019, is planning to open its doors from the Tamarack Resort in the fall of 2022.
The Mountain Community School (formerly the McCall Community School) will lease and remodel buildings from the growing resort for its K-8 school focused on place-based education.
Finding a facility has been an ongoing challenge for the new charter. Co-founders Jennifer Schon and Patrick Berg initially hoped to build a facility, but the funding for that project fell through. Then they found a facility on Highway 55, just before the pandemic hit and plans for opening the school in 2020 ground to a halt.
The founders had considered a number of properties before deciding on Tamarack, sometimes getting waylaid by challenges unique to a school — like finding a septic system that can accommodate 100-plus people, or the price of adding a turning lane to the road in front of a school.
The Tamarack location, Schon said, “is a dream.”
The Mountain Community School will follow the model of place-based education, championed by the Teton Science Schools. The philosophy leans heavily on outdoor learning and using local examples to illustrate lessons in the curriculum. If a teacher were tackling ecosystems, for example, they would start by exploring ecosystems in the McCall area before expanding the lesson to the Sahara desert or the Amazon rainforest.
The resort is close to the lake, which will lend itself to studying aquatic ecosystems, Schon said, not to mention students will have year-round access to the mountain.
“Being up there will allow us to be outside more often,” Berg said. “The other locations we were looking at, we were going to have to travel more from the actual location to learning spots.”
Tamarack has been expanding its four-season resort near Donnelly, Boise Dev reports, and plans to add hundreds of beds for employee housing. In a news release, Tamarack president Scott Turlington said adding a school to the community has been part of the resorts “long-term vision.” Though the charter will lease buildings at first, the resort and school have found a parcel on the resort’s Eastern Boundary where they might later build a new facility.
Enrollment at the Mountain Community School is open to any children in the McCall-Donnelly school district boundary.
The school first opened a lottery for prospective enrollment in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and halted opening plans. At the time, over 100 families intended to enroll, Berg said. Founders are expecting that interest will remain steady, or could be even higher, when they open lottery enrollment for the fall of 2022.
“We’ve had an increase in interest as more people have moved into the area, and are exploring options for their children,” Schon said. “(They’ve) come from bigger areas where there was choice in schools and have brought with them an interest in our charter school.”
The school has to provide a budget to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission by April, proving it will be financially stable for three years, before it has final approval to open in the fall of 2022.
The school doesn’t have a date set for its 2022 lottery, which will happen sometime this spring.