EAGLE — An esteemed secondary curriculum that once set North Star Charter School apart has fallen out of favor, driving school leaders to carve a new curricular road.
Starting next school year, North Star will shift away from its International Baccalaureate program in favor of more dual credit options.
Trustees decided to make the leap at an April 20 meeting, primarily due to “a significant drop in interest for the International Baccalaureate program at North Star,” Head of School and Secondary Principal Andy Horning said.
When the school was founded in 2003, North Star was the only public school to offer an IB track — an internationally-recognized high school diploma and college prep program — in Idaho’s Southwest region.
Since that time, Boise has sprouted two new IB charters: Sage International Charter of Boise in 2010 and Forge International Academy in 2019. While North Star’s elementary and middle school programs remain in demand, the competition is draining its high school pipeline.
Only 10 of 30 senior students enrolled in the North Star’s IB program this year, Horning said. So, administrators began considering options.
“We wanted to know, if not the International Baccalaureate, what would make you want to attend or stay at North? What our patrons were looking for was college readiness and college credits,” Horning said.
This fall, the school will begin to increase dual credit class offerings.
“Kids are going to be receiving credits that will directly transfer to all Idaho universities,” Horning said. “This will be a great starting point for all kids pursuing that next level of education while we continue to have that rigor that the IB program is known for.”
Demanding academic standards, respected teachers, and a sense of community are what attracted parents like Bryan Wheeler to enroll children in North Star, as opposed to much larger public schools which often have larger purses for athletics, school resources, teachers, and staff. (Charters receive state funds, but do not receive supplemental financing from public levies or bonds.)
“Students are giving up considerable advantages at Boise or Rocky Mountain High, but we really appreciate the small school environment where we have our own school board and a connection with staff — we’re not just one number amongst a bunch,” Wheeler said.
This was true at the elementary as well as the secondary level where Wheeler was surprised to find that principal Shay Davis connected with and knew the status of each of his three kids enrolled at North Star.
Still, this is a major transition from North Star’s first two decades. The change won’t please all. According to one parent email, this will be a “difficult pill for students and parents” to swallow. Students pursuing an IB curriculum after 2023-2024 will have to find a new institution. And teachers with IB specializations will either need to change course or find another position.
North Star will work in concert with the College of Western Idaho to help pave this new road. CWI, the largest provider of dual credit in the state, has already partnered with North Star for several years and is excited to upgrade “equitable and rigorous educational opportunities for their students.”
“We look forward to continuing to support North Star students’ academic interests and better prepare them for college and career,” Stephen Crumrine, executive director of CWI’s Dual Credit program, said in an email.
Current classes include Spanish 101 and 102, math 143 and 160 and English 101. College courses in development include English 102, history, chemistry, and, of course, business — the ultimate focus of North Star’s program.
Naturally, college courses are not free, but the state’s Advanced Opportunities program “provides every student attending an Idaho public school an allocation of $4,125” to use towards credit-earning exams, workforce training, and up to $75 per credit for dual enrollment courses. Where CWI charges an in-state tuition of $139 per credit hour, dual-credit high school students only pay $75 per credit in partnership with Advanced Opportunities. The grant covers almost the entire cost of a 60-credit associate’s degree — the eventual goal of North Star’s new focus.
“It’s a wonderful idea to use the business associate’s as a capstone to high school, and is a great way to differentiate yourself as a charter school,” Wheeler said.
Only time will tell whether the new niche will allow North Star’s high school to expand.
“I believe in my heart this is the best thing that we can do here,” Horning said.