The Idaho Public Charter School Commission announced the hiring of Nichole Hall as director and the appointment of Pete Koehler as its newest commissioner.
In March, director Jenn Thompson and commissioner Brian Scigliano resigned in protest because they felt several recent commission decisions were irresponsible. Thompson is now the chief planning and policy officer for the Office of the State Board of Education.
The commission serves as the state’s primary authorizer of charter schools. Sixty of Idaho’s 72 charter schools fall under the commission’s purview. The commission has struggled with managing growth, navigating conflicting directives and balancing its role as charter regulator and advocate.
Koehler’s appointed by Gov. Brad Little still needs Senate confirmation. The governor’s last appointment, Karen Echeverria, was voted down by the 2023 Senate in a 24-11 vote. The governor still has one more vacancy to fill.
Koehler brings years of institutional experience to the challenge.
Koehler was promoted to interim superintendent in 2013 to help lead the Nampa School District out of a fiscal crisis and came out of retirement to help lead state former superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s administration on a temporary basis.
Koehler is a University of Idaho graduate and retired Army Lt. Colonel. He served as an elementary school teacher, principal, district superintendent, chief of staff, chief deputy superintendent of education and the director of the Idaho State Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I can’t retire very well and I get a lot of grief from my friends and it does interfere with fishing, but when a man takes an oath to serve, he serves,” Koehler said.
“I always understood that this is a challenging job,” he said.
Hall officially starts Monday as commission director. For the last four years, she’s served as a bureau chief for the Idaho Department of Labor; she previously spent four years teaching math in Idaho and nine years at the Department of Education.
“She’s going to do a great job,” chairman Alan Reed said. “We were very impressed.”
The commission voted to take no action on unmet renewal conditions for Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy and Monticello Montessori Charter School. The schools are making progress to reach financial benchmarks outlined as conditions in their performance certificates. And the “fiscal concerns” for both schools were lifted.
Interest in north Idaho classical academy exceeds expectations
Kootenai Classical Academy asked the charter commission to amend its original performance certificate, because it wants to add approximately 60 more students in 7th and 8th grade for 2023-24.
The classical academy in Post Falls is set to start operations this fall. The initial enrollment target was 428 students in K-8. The new target is 486.
“You are not an action item today,” Reed told school officials, and because of that a decision could not be made Thursday.
Parent interest in the new classical academy is overwhelming, school leaders told commissioners.
“Kootenai Classical Academy’s lottery results … were quite remarkable, including in grades 7 and 8,” school leaders wrote in a letter to the commission.
There are currently 537 students on its waitlist. “In the months prior to the lottery our parent informational meetings at the Post Falls library were standing room only events… Our waitlist continues to grow in all grades and it will surely continue to grow over the summer as well,” school leaders wrote.
The school used a conservative enrollment projection for its opening year. But because of the “tremendous interest” and “robust waitlist,” the school should have a mechanism for capturing student interest, its leaders said.
Comment period drew attention to errors on commission reports
Andrew Ross, a Peace Valley Charter School administrator for the last five years, drew attention to the issue of errors in annual performance reports, asking that a policy for resolving data errors be discussed.
“The outcome desired is for school reports produced by the commission staff delivered to the commissioners, as well as the public, to be objective and flexible enough for needed corrections. We all have a collective desire that these reports be based on facts. These reports have a significant impact on schools, and even at times individual members of that school,” he wrote in a letter to commissioners.
“When corrections requested by schools need to be made on commission reports, this should be honored. I urge the commission to hold the conversation previously requested by members of this body,” he wrote.
Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families criticizes overregulation
Charter schools are often subject to overregulation, having to provide duplicate information to state agencies, hire attorneys and consultants to navigate processes put in place by this commission, and provide data that is unrelated to statutory, financial and academic accountability, the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families said during the comment period.
“This can create unnecessary barriers for charter school leaders, making it difficult for them to achieve their goals and causing resources to be removed from classrooms and stifling innovation,” said Tom LeClaire, president of the organization.
“If you take the approach as a partner and a system of support, you’ll find working with schools will help them become great.”
“I urge you to consider this new direction: streamline the renewal and annual review processes for these schools. Let them use their resources to support the education of students, rather than on staff time,” LeClaire said.