Three struggling charters tout improvements before oversight commission

Representatives from three struggling charter schools have pledged their commitments to improve in order to keep operating.

Trustees and administrators from Ammon-based Monticello Montessori Charter, Boise-based Peace Valley Charter and Village Leadership Academy on Thursday walked the Idaho Public Charter School Commission through their efforts and goals to better their academic and operational outcomes months ahead of a decision to renew their charters.

Each of the schools have struggled to meet various operational and academic outcomes the commission has set for them in recent years, from low test scores to financial insecurities. After an update on issues at Monticello and Peace Valley in August, commissioners invited all three schools to provide status updates before the commission considers renewing their charters in June.

The Idaho Public Charter School approves new charters and school-performance frameworks across the state, tracking outcomes and closing struggling schools, which has only happened twice in the commission’s more than 20 years of existence. The commission’s portfolio of schools includes 57 of Idaho’s 77 public charters.

A portion of Thursday’s conversation revolved around Village Leadership Academy’s lingering financial struggles. Concerns about the school’s finances date back to 2019, when a report uncovered “incompetent” financial management practices.

The commission has worked with the school’s leadership over the last two years to help resolve issues. Since 2019, Village has reformed its administration, governing board and replaced its former business manager.

Board chair Adrian Castaneda and building administrator Josh Noteboom walked commissioners through those and other changes and improvements. So far, these include:

  • New and revamped curriculum.
  • Monthly reviews of student-achievement data.
  • Aligned goals for leadership teams focused on learning growth.

The men touted three consecutive years of “clean” audits, positive cash flow and a fund balance of around 20% of the schools annual expenses. Yet they also acknowledged lingering financial challenges tied to the school’s facility, which they said prior school leaders secured via inflated enrollment numbers.

The Village’s enrollment now floats around 250 students. Debt for the building, however, was issued assuming the school would serve — and receive state funding for — over 500 students.

Village leaders said they have a “good relationship” with the buildings bond holders and in June made a nearly $1 million interest payment to play catch up on the debt. They’re now hoping for a loan forbearance period, they added, but may need to move to a different facility if an agreement can’t be reached.

Like Village Leadership Academy, Monticello Montessori joined Thursday’s meeting after years of financial and academic struggles. Commission staff last year flagged “grossly inadequate financial practices” at the school, along with other academic and operational issues. A 2021 EdNews investigation revealed dozens of unexplained purchases. Days later, former board chair Ken Glodo abruptly resigned and former director Erica Kemery’s was terminated.

New Monticello administrator Jeanne Johnson acknowledged “significant challenges” at the school, but touted a range of academic and operational changes in recent years, from a new master schedule to the rewriting of Individual Education Plans for special education students.

The school also has a new board chair, administration and business manager, and it created a five-year strategic plan with the help of the Idaho School Boards Association.

Commissioner Karen Echeverria, who was ISBA’s director when the plan was put in place, praised the school’s efforts. “Congratulations to the board and new administrators. I know that tough time for them.”

Peace Valley leaders also walked the commission through a range of improvement efforts, from its new five-year strategic plan to academic intervention goals in math and English language arts. Click here and scroll to page 176 for a closer look.


Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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