11 new schools to debut this year

From student-led facilities to classical academies, and from new construction to expanded existing buildings, 11 new schools opening in the coming weeks will offer a diversity of contexts and instruction.

These schools add to the more than 700 schools in Idaho.

Many Idaho schools will begin the 2023-24 school year Wednesday, including Idaho’s largest districts, West Ada and Boise.

Here are some opening-day numbers and estimated enrollments based on last year’s counts:

Start day      Districts/charters        students
Aug. 14                     54                                 135,487
Aug. 21                     78                                  96,525
Aug. 28                     30                                48,372
Sept. 5                      26                                 33,514
Sept. 11                      1                                      544

Here’s a lineup of the 11 new schools, including what the offer and who they will serve:

Dallas Harris Elementary

Rising out of the Boise School District’s March 2017 $172.5 million bond issue, the new Dallas Harris Elementary School is set to open in October, serving 330 K-5 students.

Built to ease population growth in east and southeast Boise, the new three-story elementary school building sits on land valued at about $2 million, donated by the Dallas Harris family, according to KIVI TV. The new school intends to reduce overcrowding at Riverside, Adams and other nearby schools.

In continuing “Boise’s tradition of offering high-quality neighborhood schools,” new principal Wendi Forrey will forward the Dallas Harris mission to “focus on learning and ignite the joy of learning along the way.”

Pinecrest Academy of Lewiston

Pinecrest Academy in Lewiston, the district’s first charter school, throws a curveball into the STEM formula, adding arts to create its own “STEAM-based education.”

Lewiston Charter School.
Lewiston Charter School. Photo courtesy of Austin Johnson/The Lewiston Tribune.

Readers may be familiar with the term STEM-based education, coined in 2001 by the U.S. National Science Foundation to spur student focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning necessary for many 21st century careers (per Brittanica). Pinecrest adds arts into the well-known acronym in order to make sure that its students are not only ready for the digital economy, but are ready to provide creative and critical thinking in future careers.

The tuition-free, K-5 charter school will begin with 130 students chosen on a lottery-based system. The school plans to eventually expand to eighth grade by adding one grade level every consecutive year, office manager Cathy Sundberg told EdNews. Sundberg also confirmed that the school will be housed in the octagonal old Lewiston High School science building as part of a loan lease agreement from the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Lewis Clark Valley.

Kathi Keefer, an educator for almost three decades and a five-year veteran administrator, will take over as principal.

Snake River Opportunities High School

This will be the first full year for the online Snake River Opportunities High. The alternative learning institution got its start and its accreditation last year under the guidance of former curriculum coach and principal Scott Corgatelli, according to Snake River superintendent Mark Kress.

“Scott did a really good job with this approach last year, meeting graduation standards and helping kids that would normally fall just below the line,” Kress told EdNews.

The 30-some students at Opportunities High are a mix of students from Snake River and from around the state, part of the 130 overall online students at Snake River High. Kress said that the school’s students are a diverse brew, some of whom are working towards graduation and others who are taking a dual credit approach. The first Snake River student to earn an associate’s degree in high school just graduated this past year.

The online, K-12 format, formed in 2020, features about 130 of its 1,700 total students. The lack of a physical classroom allows the school to “get together and do some pretty fun trips” like an adventure to Yellowstone Park.

Eight to nine faculty members oversee both the regular and alternative online schools.

Kootenai Classical Academy

Approved to serve up to 702 students in a K-12 setting, Kootenai Classical Academy will begin its tenure as a public charter school in Post Falls with 428 K-8 students on Sept. 5.

Like Treasure Valley Academy in Fruitland, KCA is a part of Hillsdale College’s classical school model. This curricular approach leans on knowledge from classic thinkers — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and many more — for students even in elementary grades. These teachings and inquiry skills will “pervade a KCA student’s experience in literature, economics, math, science, music, art, history, government, and philosophy” even from the earliest grades, according to a letter from principal Ed Kaitz. As such, this foundation of Western thought also stresses extracurriculars like music and sports to round out student educations and to connect with parents and the greater community.

KCA’s initial charter is approved for five years, through the 2027-2028 school year.

Horseshoe Bend Alternative School

Of the approximately 120 students at Horseshoe Bend’s rural, middle high school (grades 6-12), the Horseshoe Bend Alternative School will serve 10 to 15 students “whose needs are not being met in the traditional school setting,” according to principal and superintendent Dennis Chesnut.

“Creating this alternative school opens up some flexibility for us where we can provide an alternative education setting for some of our students struggling to find success in the traditional setting,” Chesnut told EdNews in an email.

This individualized focus will occur within the context of the larger high school. As such, no new construction or buildings were needed to create the alternative school, just a new context for kids that were not succeeding in the larger school setting.

Nampa Academy

The Nampa school district will introduce the Nampa Academy this year for 60 sophomore through senior students “who need a smaller environment that focuses on fewer classes at a time to reach graduation requirements,” according to acting principal MaryAnn VandeBrake.

This will be VandeBrake’s second alternative school foundation after opening a similar school in Vallivue 13 years ago. The administrator told EdNews that she is very excited to get Nampa Academy underway, providing space for students recommended through their home schools and meeting at-risk criteria by the state.

About 50 percent of her current students are credit deficient seniors. Other qualifications include pregnant, emancipated, and high absentee students. The mission of the school is, “to instruct and assist students so they may be successful both as students and contributing members of society.”

In addition to VandeBrake, Nampa Academy will serve its students with four content area teachers, a counselor, and two education assistants. Housed in Nampa’s Columbia High School, there is currently room for 60 students. The district is working on establishing a permanent site for Nampa Academy after the 2023-2024 school, which will grow its capacity to 80 students and welcome freshmen attendees.

Gem Prep Twin Falls

The K-12 Gem Prep public charter community continues to grow in Idaho with its seventh iteration opening in Twin Falls this fall.
The organization’s mission is to, “to prepare students for success in college by providing a high quality, personalized, relevant and rigorous education through exceptional teaching, innovative uses of technology and partnerships with families,” according to its webpage.

In order to ensure this college prep mission, Gem Prep has established a developmental focus for grades K-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12. In building towards this overall goal, the school asserts that its students and eventual graduates express the following competencies: “self-aware, self-directed, and self-disciplined, creative problem-solvers, skilled communicators, and collaborators.”

Twin Falls will serve 208 scholars in grades K-5 and plans to expand to a K-12 school serving around 575 students in the coming years, according to Gem Prep Twin Falls principal Todd Hale, an education specialist and veteran administrator.

Promise Academy Caldwell

The new Promise Academy school in Caldwell will serve eight students in the newly-constructed Residential Center for Healing and Resilience on the 64-student capacity campus of the Idaho Youth Ranch this fall. The residential treatment facility will provide 24-hour care for students aged 11-17 that experience severe mental health and behavioral issues, according to Idaho Ed News.

The “trauma-informed education environment” is based upon “exhaustive” research showing the success of a residential intervention that stresses individualized educational instruction. This six-to-nine month educational program will include treatment, skill building, and therapeutic services working toward success in life after graduation, according to the Youth Ranch website.

Rick Hale will serve as principal of Promise Academy.

Alpine Academy Charter School

Alpine Academy Charter School will be a grades 6-8 expansion of the K-5 Connor Academy Charter School in Chubbuck.

The mission of Connor Academy is to educate students “by implementing a core curriculum of mathematics, reading, writing, science and social studies and by involving parents in the educational process, while nurturing student confidence and achievement with a safe, character building teaching method.”

Principal and superintendent Joel Lovstedt will continue to oversee the charter schools with six teachers leading students in the grades 6-8 addition. Building costs for the new Alpine Academy amounted to around $12 million, funded primarily through public bonds and federal grant money, according to East Idaho News. With the addition, the capacity of the school rose from 540 to 800 students.

Madison Early Childhood Center

The Madison Early Childhood Center, with a mission to improve literacy and reading skills by the time students reach kindergarten, has already existed for the past few years and will kick the new school year off with 300 enrolled students.

The problem is, according to Madison superintendent Randy Lords, the school’s success has engendered a growing population of parents that want to enroll their kids before K-12 begins. There is a waiting list of about 100 to 150 students still trying to get into the school, which is why when Madison’s new elementary school is complete in January, the current Hibbard Elementary will transition into a full-time pre-K early childhood center.

“We already have early childhood classrooms at our elementary schools. The demand and growth of the community has fostered this project,” Lords told EdNews.

The new Hibbard Elementary was supposed to open this fall, but construction and Idaho weather pushed that opening back, Lords said. Right now, Hibbard supports four pre-K classrooms that alternate Monday/Wednesday/Friday and Tuesday/Thursday sessions for pre-K students. Once the new, 19-classroom elementary school opens this winter, the current building will expand to six classrooms with an aspiration of expanding to eight in the coming years.

“We’re really excited to open,” Lords said. “We really appreciate our community taxing themselves.”

One of the unique things about the pre-K program is that it specializes in helping kids with learning disabilities and other special needs. Because qualified staff is plentiful (supplied, in part, from the early childhood special ed program at BYU Idaho in nearby Rexburg), these students share a classroom with conventional students getting a jump start on their schooling.

Blackfoot School District Online Jr/Sr High School

Blackfoot’s new online junior/senior high school is slated to open in September. No further details were available.

This article contains information contributed by Idaho Ed News data analyst Randy Schrader.

Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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