Stephen Lambert’s current mission attests to a long military career: a no-nonsense leader with a laser focus on nurturing the next generation of successful citizens.
Well-spoken and direct, Lambert comfortably entwines the ideas of ancient philosophers and the country’s Founding Fathers with the purpose of education.
“Both Plato and Aristotle argued that it takes a lifetime of hard work to become a person of good habits and you have to inculcate virtue in the young from an early age to give yourself a fighting chance to build the civil society,” he said.
Lambert is executive director of American Classical Schools of Idaho and founding principal of Fruitland’s Treasure Valley Classical Academy (TVCA), a school that is drawing interest from communities across the state.
Idaho is one of 12 states with an official member school. TVCA serves 535 students in K-9; they are adding 10th grade in the fall with plans to add 11th and 12th grades in subsequent years. There are currently 240 families on the school’s waitlist.
Sitting on the far western end of the Treasure Valley, where crowds and construction give way to expansive farmland, Fruitland — population 6,000 with strong agricultural roots — seems an unlikely location for classical education that teaches advanced Latin, requires students to wear uniforms and studies the Indonesian music traditions of Gamelan.
Lambert points to the concept of federalism: local decisions are decided by the community. “A group of local citizens wanted a choice in education — that’s the simple answer,” he said.
Fruitland parents looked for an education system and they found the Hillsdale Classical Schools model that develops a culture through concepts like self-reliance, governing ourselves, intellectual virtue, moral traditions, standards of truth, and Western philosophical tradition.
“What I would not ever say is that there is or is not a perfect community for these kinds of schools. We think these schools are good for all human beings,” Lambert said.
“This is the kind of education that emulates the way previous generations and generations of Americans were educated. So what really matters is not whether there is a perfect community for a school like this, what matters is there a desire for this kind of educational choice.”
Education has lost sight of the investment required to preserve “our Democratic experiment” and build a “civil society.”
“This is what we have lost in our education system. In the effort to cram data into kids’ heads so that they can take standardized tests, we’ve lost the fact that we’re forming human beings, and that it takes a lot more than that,” he said.
A life committed to serving and preserving the United States
A commitment to education excellence and personal integrity distinguish Lambert’s leadership style in Fruitland.
Compelled to give back to his country, Lambert fulfills that purpose by pouring into young people an education model that intends to preserve this “amazing experiment” with liberty — the United States of America.
“I’m the son of immigrants. My parents literally came over and were dirt poor Europeans after World War II. They came to America as a land of promise. They immigrated through Ellis Island in New York, and they were able to build a life for themselves. And I’m deeply grateful for what this country gave my parents,” he said.
His first passion was serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. “On May 30 of 1990 I took an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution,” he recalled.
Lambert retired as an Air Force colonel after 24 years of service. His career included national security policy positions, flying special air missions in support of the President, director of the U.S. Air Force Commanders’ Professional Development School, vice wing commander of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein, Germany, and an assistant professorship at the Air Force Academy.
Two of Lambert’s sons attended the Air Force Academy, one attended the Naval Academy and one the Coast Guard Academy. All four serve in the military, three as pilots and one infantry officer.
In 2019, Hillsdale College recruited Lambert for TVCA from Atlanta Classical Academy in Georgia, where he spent one year as principal and three years as assistant principal. He earned a political science degree from the Air Force Academy and a master of arts in national security affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School in California.
In his final year at Atlanta Classical Academy, his senior class earned $5.7 million dollars worth of scholarships and all 34 students were accepted to four-year colleges, like Hillsdale College, Notre Dame University, Tufts University, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University and Boston College.
The Hillsdale model emphasizes liberal arts education and civic responsibility
The Hillsdale education model is gaining traction in Idaho: train the minds and improve the hearts of students through a content-rich, classical curriculum that emphasizes virtuous living, traditional learning and civic responsibility.
The curriculum emphasizes the core disciplines of math, science, literature and history, with attention to music, art, physical education and foreign languages. The K-12 Program Guide provides teachers — and they are required to use it — with a scope of topics, a sequence to teach them, and reviewed books, primary sources and other resources.
TVCA’s standardized test scores hover around state averages and narrowly outperform their comparison district of Fruitland.
On the Idaho Reading Indicator, a screener for kindergarten through third-grade students, in 2022 67% of students tested at grade level on the fall IRI. That is 1% higher than Fruitland but 1% below the state average.
On the math Idaho Standards Achievement Test, TVCA scored 46% proficiency while Fruitland reached 36% and the state average reached 41.9%. In the English language arts, 51% reached proficiency compared to Fruitland’s 50% and the state’s 54.8%.
The school serves 42% minority population with 35% reported as economically disadvantaged, according to a charter commission annual report.
But standardized test scores are not the primary way the school measures success.
“So think of that as helping students learn and then helping them to become good people. Our goal is both mind and soul — or intellect and character,” Lambert said. “And we think both are critically important for human flourishing and this goes all the way back to the American founding.”
“(James) Madison writes in Federalist 55 that unless we have citizens of virtue and knowledge, we would not be able to perpetuate our republic. Full and holistic human development is a focus on character and virtue, as well as knowledge and intellect.”
This list includes snippets of broad concepts that are part of a classical education.
- Seeks knowledge of the nature of things.
- To know ourselves and understand our purpose in life.
- Examines the great works of literature, philosophy, politics and art.
- Liberates us from ignorance and confusion, from prejudice and delusion.
- Provides a moral education.
- Existence of education depends on the existence of civilization.
- Study of history gives us an appreciation for the American experience.
- Citizens capable of judging what ought to be preserved and what changed.
“That is at the core of what we’re trying to do,” Lambert explained. “And then you combine that with a content rich curriculum in liberal arts and science, and you really empower human beings to have choices, but more importantly, you grow citizens that will perpetuate our republic.”
In the Hillsdale model, the word “liberal” means freedom.
American Classical Schools of Idaho is the parent organization
More communities in north Idaho, the Treasure Valley and Burley are taking notice of the American Classical Schools of Idaho.
The public charter commission recently approved Idaho Novus Classical Academy’s request to open a new school in Avimor in 2024. And like TVCA, the Novus Academy plans to foster a culture defined by a “seriousness of purpose” and “emphasis on the development of character and preparation for civic engagement.”
American Classical Schools of Idaho will be the parent organization over each classical academy — one board and multiple schools.
The next charter school they plan to petition the commission for is North Idaho Classical Academy in Boundary County. The school hopes to open in 2025.
“And then after that, we have interests throughout the Treasure Valley. It’s hard to specify right now where the next one will be. Notionally, we aim to open one school a year going forward. This has to be federalism — in other words, ground up, not top down,” Lambert said.
“There’s a fair amount of interest throughout Idaho,” he said. They are also talking to interested parents in Kuna, north Middleton and east Boise.
Schools are citizen-makers, and “if the students really study and apply themselves, they are able to reach beyond the moon,” he said.