Five new charters will open for business this fall

Nearly 1,000 elementary and middle school students will fill the halls of five new public charter schools across Idaho this fall.

Or not.

Like at existing schools throughout the state, uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic have leaders at these new charters in the Treasure and Magic valleys and North Idaho assessing how they’ll instruct kids come fall.

It’s not how administrators envisioned their first year of operation, but they say technology provides a range of possibilities, from in-person or remote learning to some combination of the two.

Still, leaders are hoping for a “normal” start to the school year.

“It’s a challenge, but we’re optimistic students can show up on the first day with extra precautions — cleaning, sanitizing and implementing CDC recommendations,” said Julianna Turley, principal of charter startup Doral Academy of Idaho.

The new schools will bring the number of Idaho’s public charters to 73. Its hard to say how the schools will impact overall charter enrollment, which last year accounted for more than  24,000 or around 9 percent of the 310,000 K-12 students in Idaho.

Here’s a closer look at Idaho’s newcomer schools:

Mosaics Public Charter School. Located in Caldwell, this school will emphasize science, technology, engineering, the arts and math for 300 K-4 students throughout the Treasure Valley beginning Aug. 25.

Founder and head administrator Anthony Haskett said he’s optimistic for a normal start to the school year. But if that’s not possible, Mosaics will have 210 laptops ready for kids to learn either full-time or part-time from home.

“We’re doing surveys now to see which families have access to technology,” Haskett said.

Mosaics also plans to grow. The school will add a new grade each year for three years until it serves 540 K-8 students.

Doral Academy of Idaho. This Meridian-based charter will serve kids throughout Treasure Valley, with emphases on “arts integration, individual student focus, and rigorous academics,” its website reads.

Doral will open with 193 K-5 students on Aug. 27 and expand over the next three years. Ultimately, it will serve between 500 and 600 K-8 graders, Turley told EdNews.

The school also has a plan to get technology out to kids to go virtual or mixed, depending on direction from state and local officials, Turley said.

Pinecrest Academy of Idaho at Twin Falls. This school will serve 172 K-5 students in the Magic Valley starting Aug. 17 . It will expand to about 250 kids in grades K-8 over the next three years, said principal Denise Schumacher.

The school will focus learning around science, technology, engineering and math.

A one-to-one ration of devices for kids will fill the possible need for full- or part-time remote learning, Schumacher said. Teachers will supplement instruction with paper packets for younger elementary students if the school adopts any form of a remote model.

Pinecrest is leasing space from a Twin Falls Presbyterian church but could eventually build a school to further expansion efforts, Schumacher told EdNews.

Hayden Canyon Charter. Located in Hayden, near Coeur d’Alene, this school of 304 K-8 students has no immediate plans to add more grades.

But it does plan to double its enrollment over the next 10 years, with an eventual target of 668 students in an attendance area west of Hayden Lake.

The school’s year-to-year growth plan will accompany a four-phased construction of its current facility on North Government Way in Hayden, Education director Cynthia Lamb said.

Hayden Canyon is exploring several options for how to open on Sep. 8, including full, in-person instruction, in-person instruction with various social-distancing procedures or a fully online model.

Island Park Charter School. Though this school technically opened with 16 students last year, it missed the deadline for receiving state funds and survived on donations and private grants.

On Aug. 26, Island Park Charter will make its public-school debut, said the school’s founder and teacher Connie Day. The school will provide some travel relief to younger students who live in the remote mountain town of Island Park, which is located in East Idaho’s Fremont County School District. The school this year plans to serve 20 students from preschool to third grade.

As far as the pandemic goes, Day said the school’s remote location and sparse population reduce risks of community spread. Still the school will train teachers on remote learning after it opens its doors in August. Day said the school currently has more devices than students, though home internet could be an issue for a few local families.

“Were still exploring ways to address that,” said Day.

Dunn also said the school is eyeing a possible closure after Thanksgiving, depending on how the pandemic impacts flu season.

Island Park Charter is the fall startup not authorized by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. Rather, the school will operate under the the Fremont County School District, in Ashton.

Idaho’s first charter school opened its doors 21 years ago.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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