There is no state in America better for school innovators to operate and serve families and children than Idaho. This past year saw the continued growth of families choosing to have their children attend an Idaho school of choice, be it a public charter school, an open enrollment school, a virtual school, a learning society or a district magnet school.
Bluum continued to grow and serve our outstanding school partners in 2023. We are blessed to work with an impressive group of educators across Idaho who share our belief in the power of education to change the lives of children and young people for the better. Thank you school partners for your hard work, struggles and sacrifice to do the best you can for your children and families day in and day out. You inspire us at Bluum.
None of the work we and our school partners did in 2023 would have been possible without the continued support and encouragement of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. Their faith and commitment to our collective efforts is staggering.
We are excited about 2024 and hope you find the time to give a quick read of our 2023 Annual Report. Let us know if you have any ideas for what Bluum can or should do better or smarter in 2024.
2022 Annual Report
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Idaho charter schools. Over the last decade, the state’s overall K-12 enrollment has grown by about 55,000 students, almost 20% of that new enrollment (10,422 students) has been in the state’s public charter schools. The Gem State boasts a robust mix of single-site schools, as well as several emerging charter school networks.
The Elevate Academy Network is successfully addressing an unmet demand with their 6-12th grade CTE model designed specifically for at-risk students. American Classical Schools of Idaho will work in coming years to offer their classical academic model to communities across the state.
Gem Innovation Schools, Idaho’s very first homegrown charter school network, is leveraging their high-performing online school to pioneer their innovative Learning Societies in Lewiston and Emmett.
Bluum is excited about three schools that will open in the next couple of years: Elevate Academy East in Idaho Falls, Gem Prep: Twin Falls, and Idaho Novus Classical Academy at Avimor, a planned community north of Boise.
We have the privilege of serving some of Idaho’s finest school leaders in helping them educate and support their thousands of families and students. In 2021, the real heroes in our orbit were our 30 plus partner schools and their teams. These education warriors dealt with myriad pandemic disruptions, frustrations and setbacks. Many had to deal with personal sickness and the scare of having COVID-19 in their own homes, they had to worry about their teachers and their students. They had to battle learning loss, student malaise, and the general exhaustion and frustration of living in a pandemic that refused to end.
Our annual report this year is dedicated to these educators in our partner schools. The activities we describe in our report could not have been possible without the sweat, toil, bravery, devotion and energy of these dedicated educators. Two data points generated by the FDR Research team as part of our Federal Charter School (CSP) program grant captures the excellence of our school partners: 89% of their parents trusted their school “to do what is right for their child,” while 90% of their parents believed their child’s school “did an excellent/good job during COVID-19.”
We are so proud to support and serve these hard-working people as they continue to provide an essential education to Idaho’s students.
Bluum at Five
2020 – A Look Back at Bluum’s First Five Years
2020 was a year of loss. We lost friends, we lost time, and too many of our children lost learning and missed opportunities. With more time at home there was also more time to think and reflect. What do we do? Does it matter? Is it making a difference?
It was with these questions in mind that we asked veteran education journalist Alan Gottlieb to survey and interview Idaho and national partners, friends and even critics of Bluum about our work in the Gem State over the last five years.
Alan received survey responses from 50 different individuals and conducted 15 in-depth interviews. His questions ranged from “What, in your opinion, are Bluum’s core values and beliefs,” to “How has Bluum disappointed.”
The responses Alan received were robust, thoughtful and honest. We could not have asked more from those interviewed. Because of their generous input we feel our enclosed report Bluum at Five: Helping Good People Start Good Schools provides not only a handy history of Bluum, but some outstanding ideas for what Bluum can do better, differently and smarter over the next five years.
Alan documents some of what Bluum has accomplished in a short time, but there is support and encouragement for us to do even more. This early success would not have been possible without the significant assistance, encouragement and engagement of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. Nor would it be possible without the dedication and hard work of the school leaders, new school fellows, school board members and support partners and political allies that Bluum has had the good fortune to work with, learn from and support over the last five years.
Truly, Bluum is about good people in Idaho trying to do good things for students, families and communities across our state.
Closing the Gap
Right now, the Bluum team is focused on supporting schools to navigate these uncharted waters and ensure their students and families have the support they need. While we continue planning and strategizing for what’s next, we still wanted to share our look back on 2019.
Last year, our work to create, grow and support high quality schools across Idaho, especially for our most educationally disadvantaged and rural students, expanded significantly.
In addition to our ongoing partnership with the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to help the Gem State become America’s best state for education and school choice, our work was accelerated when Bluum was awarded a $22 million-dollar federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant in 2018 to launch Idaho’s Communities of Excellence program. We issued 11 CSP subgrants in 2019 worth about $10 million.
We are fortunate to work with such an outstanding group of schools, educators, community leaders, state policy makers, lawmakers, funders and other allies to grow Idaho’s new school sector. As our 2019 Annual Report documents, we are encouraged by the rising academic performance of our partner schools, even as they grow to serve more students each year.
Let Leaders Grow
Bluum’s mission is to create, grow and support high quality schools across Idaho.
Key to school quality is school leadership – see how our Idaho New School Fellows, and the innovative leaders in all our portfolio schools are helping Idaho’s children reach their fullest potential. Learn more about our portfolio school investments and expected growth, the Communities of Excellence federal Charter Schools Program grant – a competitive grant opportunity representing $17.1 million in Federal funds available to Idaho’s charters, and Idaho’s charter school performance in Let Leaders Grow – Bluum’s 2018 Annual Report.
Quality by Design
We care deeply about helping create and support high-quality schools across Idaho. It doesn’t matter to us whether they’re private, charter public, or district innovation. We are committed to what we call the ‘20 in 10’ strategy; creating 20,000 new high-performing Idaho school seats in 10 years (2024). This is why we seek out, vet, and support innovative leaders and high-performing school models; ‘20 in 10’ schools are quality by design. Quality is our focus, because quality is what counts. In other words, Bluum is governance-neutral. We support promising models with technical assistance, grant funding, talent recruitment and development, help securing a facility – anything it takes to provide more Idaho children with a world-class education.
Of the 13 schools in our cohort, we want to introduce three new schools we’re supporting; two that opened in August 2017, and one that will open in 2018. Taken together, they embody the Bluum theory of action. One is a private Catholic school in Meridian. Another is a new charter public school located in Garden City. The third is an innovation school, meaning it is part of the Nampa School District, but operating with charter-like autonomy.
All three schools offer unique educational models that we believe will serve Idaho children well. What’s more, they are all replicable, so that once they’ve demonstrated a record of success, they can open new campuses elsewhere in the state.
These are homegrown models and an important part of the story. Bluum is open to supporting national charter management organizations with proven track records that wish to operate in Idaho. Programs developed locally, whose founders have a deep understanding of the culture of our state and the needs of its children, are the best possible leaders for a new generation of excellent schools. Finally, all three schools have a deep commitment to serving a diverse student body. They seek out and welcome children of all ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Measures that Matter | 2016
Idaho is one of the best kept secrets in the country. It is naturally wild, gorgeous and geographically varied, from the Owyhee Desert in the south, to the wetlands along its many rivers, the rolling farmland of the northern Palouse, to the majestic mountain ranges that run along its spine. Idaho is also the 12th fastest growing state in the country, and its population of almost 1.7 million citizens is becoming more demographically, socially and economically diverse1. Boise, the state capital, is annually rated as one of the best places in the country to live and raise a family.
To maintain its status as a top place to live, work and raise a family, education in the Gem State has to improve. Just over half of Idaho’s students met the state’s own standard for proficiency on the state’s 2016 English exam, and only 42 percent did so in mathematics. Idaho’s educational outcomes earned it a D+ in the Education Week Quality Counts survey of education across the U.S. (ranking Idaho 48th out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia)2. Meanwhile, a dismal 26 percent of Idaho high school students taking the SAT in 2015 met the national benchmark for college and career readiness3.
And those are state averages: Idaho’s most vulnerable students are performing worse. Proficiency rates for low income students trailed those of their middle-class peers by a staggering 25 and 22 percentage points in English and math, respectively. Finally, and not surprisingly considering the persistently low SAT scores, the state’s go on rate actually dropped from 52 percent to 46 percent between 2014 and 20154.
Idaho can, and must, do better for all of its students. Bluum has been fortunate to work with educators, community groups, researchers and education leaders throughout the Gem State.
We have developed this, our first Annual Report, to share some of the early lessons we have learned about launching new school capacity, as well as to set a baseline for reporting on our efforts over time.