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Moving Idaho’s Schools Forward Means Expanding School Options

By Terry Ryan
This post originally appeared in the Idaho Press Tribune.
Education Week — the nation’s education journal — gave Idaho a D+ (ranking 48th), and an F on school finance, worst in the country. Idaho’s graduation rate is lower than all but eight states.
These are tough numbers to stomach, but they should motivate improvement efforts. Idahoans are concerned about their schools and want better.
Education will continue to be a critical issue at the Statehouse with public promises from Gov. Butch Otter and other state officials to increase school funding. There is growing recognition that education and schools are key to keeping Idaho a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Despite the challenges, or maybe because of them, more and more Idaho educators and schools are embracing innovation and creating new learning options for students. West Ada School District, for example, runs three learning academy high schools that target students who are behind their peers academically but deserve a different option at success. The educators leading these academies are some of Idaho’s finest, and their district leadership has given them flexibility to target their efforts to the individual needs of their students.
Nampa, where 66 percent of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, has launched a series of improvement efforts including plans for a new empowerment high school that will embrace blended learning opportunities. The district also took the bold step of authorizing two high-performing charter schools in order to serve more students.
In Salmon, the school district, local charter school and neighboring South Lemhi district are collaborating to improve early literacy opportunities for their youngest students.
Some of Idaho’s highest performing public charter schools are expanding to serve more students, reduce wait lists and improve student achievement. In Rathdrum, the North Idaho STEM Academy opened as a K-8 school in 2012 with 264 students. Now a K-10 program garnering national recognition for excellence, it serves 446 students and expects to educate 700 as a K-12 program by 2018.
Compass Charter School in Meridian, a perennial high flier on state performance assessments, has added almost 300 new students just this year (growing from 565 students to 859), while the successful Sage International School in Boise has almost doubled from 545 students in 2013-14 to more than 930 today.
Parents are chasing quality when they can get it. But improvements to public schools alone is not enough if the goal is access to high-performing learning options for all students.
Private schools can be transforming for children. That’s why Grace Lutheran in Pocatello — a highly-regarded pre-K-8 school that has operated for more than 60 years — is building a new high school focused on college preparation. It expects to serve upwards of 300 high school students.
In Meridian, the Catholic diocese plans to open the first new Treasure Valley Catholic school in 50 years. St. Ignasius promises to prepare students for the rigor of great high schools like Bishop Kelly. More can and should be done to help successful private schools serve more students.
Idaho can do better on education. There are a growing number of district, charter and private school educators moving fast to create and expand learning options that better serve kids.
By doing things differently, Idaho will see its education quality ratings move up. Doing the same with a little more money won’t get Idaho where it needs to go.

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