State commission approves two new charter schools

There were a lot of smiles and pats on the back as parents, educators, community members and organizers departed the Idaho Public Charter School Commission’s meeting Thursday.

The commission approved two new charter schools, one in Lewiston and one outside of Eagle in the Avimor subdivision; a third charter applicant, a sports academy, withdrew its petition before the meeting started.

The Legislature created the commission in 2004, in order to give charter advocates a way to open a school. The commission also serves as authorizer for three-fourths of Idaho’s 77 charter schools, and 17 of those are up for renewal in 2023. The other charters are authorized by districts. About 10% of Idaho’s 312,00 students attended charter schools.

The Pinecrest Academy of Lewiston

The Pinecrest Academy plans to open its doors in the fall of 2023. In the first couple of years, this school will utilize an existing building in Lewiston belonging to the Boys and Girls Club.

“The school anticipates enrolling 300 students in grades K-5 during the first year of operations, and expanding to 510 students in grades K-8 at full capacity,” according to Pinecrest’s petition document. “The school has identified a facility for the first year or two of operations, after which it will attempt to move to a newly constructed facility.”

The commission’s conditional approval marks the first charter school to open in the rural community of Lewiston, where it estimates providing an additional “education choice” for about 34,000 residents.

“I’m excited to share with you our proposal,” said Anna Wilson, a member of Pinecrest’s governing board. “I’m very excited to be part of this board.”

The school hopes to raise student learning and achievement with a core curriculum of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM), as well as “a rich array of special and elective courses in fine arts, health, physical education, languages, and technical curricula,” according to its proposal.

However, the charter commission did offer two concerns: enrollment expectations and financial issues. They cautioned Pinecrest board members to plan financial decisions carefully because they — the charter commission members — are fiduciaries of the public’s money; as well, they discussed the accuracy of the new school’s anticipated enrollment figures. 

Pinecrest spokespersons ultimately convinced the commission of its viability.

“So I know that (Lewiston) is growing, and I feel like this could be something that could also attract people to our town, having a good quality school like this charter school,” Wilson remarked during a discussion about the area’s growth.

The Idaho Novus Classical Academy

The second approved charter school, Idaho Novus Classical Academy, plans to open its doors in 2024 north of Eagle. Focusing on classical education and rigorous instruction, this “school would be a replication of the Treasure Valley Classical Academy,” according to Novus’ proposal. The school will serve the northeastern region of the Treasure Valley, including the areas of Eagle, Horseshoe Bend, Sweet/Montour, and Emmett. 

The school’s kindergarten through sixth-grade enrollment is expected to be 378 students in the first year of operations, and expand to 659 students in grades kindergarten through 12th in year seven of operations, according to its plan. Novus board members noted high interest in the school and believes it will reach target enrollment and “fill every seat.”

Board chairman Marvin Lasnick said, “We are a mission-driven organization and our mission is what we do every day. I want to call out or train the minds and improve the heart. So those are key pillars to what we believe.”

The school’s curriculum is “characterized by a strong emphasis on language, rich content in a core curriculum of traditional subjects, and a focus upon the American historical, literary, and civic inheritance.” Novus school officials said they plan to offer transportation, with perhaps centralized locations for bus stops. Portions of three counties will be served: Ada, Boise, and Gem.

The charter commission posed questions about Novus’ significant reliance on grant funding but generally seemed satisfied with the answers, and they unanimously voted to approve the new school.

The M2 Sports Academy Charter School

The proposed sports academy, M2 Sports Academy Charter School, withdrew its petition. The commission’s evaluation report recommended that the commission deny the petition because of concerns that certain academic requirements may not be met.

The new charter school aimed to provide athletic programs for students in grades six through twelve. The school would initially serve grades six through eight with basketball and volleyball programs, and later add a high school component with football, baseball, and tennis, according to the petition document.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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