By Alan Gottlieb
Sheraya Hauck grew up in Bonners Ferry in far north Idaho and was homeschooled by her parents. Her son attends kindergarten at a small private Christian school that opened just this year in town.
Sheraya never thought she would consider a public school for her son, or her one-year-old daughter. She believed her family’s values clashed with what was taught in most public schools.
Then she heard about the North Idaho Classical Academy public charter school, scheduled to open near Bonners Ferry in August 2025. She became one of the founding group of parents.
She is all in on sending her children there. “I always knew that I would never put my children into the mainstream flow of public education,” she said. “People used to ask me all the time what I’m going to do because I have a career, so I can’t really homeschool.”
“I just prayed about it a lot. And when I saw this pop up, it was like my prayers were answered,” Sheraya said.
Plenty of people in the area apparently feel the same way. Twenty months before opening, the school has a lengthy waitlist.
North Idaho Classical Academy will be the third school operating as part of the American Classical Schools of Idaho. All classical schools under the ACS-I aegis will be affiliated with Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative, a rapidly growing network of charters that adopt the initiative’s curriculum, ‘virtues,’ and pedagogy.
Founded in 1844 by abolitionists known as Free Will Baptists, Hillsdale College, located in Michigan, has a liberal arts curriculum based on the Western heritage as a product of both Greco-Roman culture and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hillsdale requires every student, regardless of major, to complete a core curriculum that includes courses on the Great Books, U.S. Constitution, biology, chemistry and physics.
These same traditions and values animate the Barney Charter School Initiative and the work of their public charter school partners across the country.
Communities interested in opening a classical school affiliated with ACS-I must first demonstrate to the organization strong, grassroots support and enthusiasm for having a school there. Once that is established, the organization helps form a community founding group, which helps generate additional interest and partners with ACS-I staff.
That’s exactly what happened in Bonners Ferry. And then a generous landowner stepped in with an offer too good to refuse.
Paul Ware, the owner of the land where the school will be located, has long been familiar with Hillsdale and its approach to classical education. He said his grandchildren are interested in attending Hillsdale College. So when he heard about the North Idaho Classical Academy, he was eager to play a role.
Through a mutual acquaintance, he met Steve Lambert, a retired Air Force colonel who founded the Treasure Valley Classical Academy in Fruitland in 2019 and is now heading the American Classical Schools of Idaho.
“It was like minds, like hearts from the beginning,” Ware said. “So we decided to go with it and see if we could make it work.”
Ware had bought a 120-acre property near Bonners Ferry in 2022. The 15-acre parcel he is selling to American Classical Schools of Idaho is the former site of Boulder Creek Academy, a now-defunct residential care and treatment facility for troubled children of affluent (often celebrity) parents.
Ware is so enthused by the mission that he is selling the Boulder Creek Academy complex on 15 acres to the school for $3.5 million. It was appraised at $8.5 million.
“We’re excited to see it come together and I’m confident it will work in the future for kids in the area the same way these schools have been working across the country,” Ware said.
Lambert said the Boulder Creek Academy property has infrastructure that is rare for such a remote area, including fire hydrants and sprinkler systems in every building. He also said buildings on the property provide opportunities for a wide range of community activities.
“Public engagement, community engagement, teacher training, regional conferences, and the like,” Lambert said.
The school will be led by Idaho New School Fellow Jacob Francom, an award-winning public school principal and superintendent from Troy, Montana, just across the state line.
Francom was drawn to the project because he has long been devoted to character education (the topic of his doctoral dissertation), something classical academies stress in a way far more direct and less superficial than is the norm in traditional public schools.
“It’s exciting to be part of this school because it’s been something that I have always felt education should be like,” Francom said. “I think it’s hard in a public school to do the appropriate virtue training and character education, because you have so many other factors that are pushing against it.”
The property will undergo substantial renovations between now and when the school opens. What had been dormitories will be converted to classrooms, and at least one new classroom building will have to be added.
To date, Francom said, local school districts have been receptive to the idea of the school opening. That’s in large part, he said, because most of the 360 students who will eventually fill the school will come from homeschooling families rather than from area schools.
When North Idaho Classical Academy opens in 2025, it will serve students in grades K-6. It will then add a grade each year until it runs through 12th grade.
Lambert stressed that schools affiliated with American Classical Schools of Idaho are not geared primarily toward getting students into college, though he said those who choose to do so will certainly succeed.
“There are multiple conceptions of what classical education is,” Lambert said, “One of them is British finishing school classical, highbrow, blueblood classical. That’s absolutely not what ACS-I is about. Its roots are more in the American founding and an agrarian form of classical education. This is where Jefferson’s concept of “farmers that have read Homer make good citizens” comes from, and that’s kind of the cloth that we are cut from.”
Graduates of North Idaho Classical Academy might choose college, or they might decide to take over the family farm. Whatever they decide to do, he said, “with this kind of a well-rounded education, not only will they be successful in whatever they pursue, they will become great human beings and great citizens in our communities.”
The bucolic setting of the school also presents opportunities for education focused on the great outdoors. Lambert said he envisions classes in animal husbandry and farming, and even anticipates keeping livestock on campus.
Bluum, the Boise-based nonprofit that works closely with Lambert in developing the classical academies, conducted a focus group of parents in the Bonners Ferry area to determine what would attract them to the school.
“What they’re really looking for is for kids to get out from behind screens, and reconnect with the natural world around them,” Lambert said. “We don’t put kids in front of screens anyway. But what we do find is that this location is particularly suitable for that and there is going to be a component here that speaks to that.”
What appeals to Sheraya Hauck about the classical academy philosophy?
“I was a huge fan of the almost one-room schoolhouse approach,” she said. “When I went in and looked at the curriculum, I was like, this is some excellent, challenging stuff, and not at all what kids are getting in mainstream school.”
Alan Gottlieb is a Colorado-based writer, editor, journalist, communications consultant, and nonprofit entrepreneur who owns Write.Edit.Think, LLC. He founded EdNews Colorado, which later merged with Gotham Schools to form Chalkbeat. He does consulting work for Bluum, an Idaho-based non-profit education group.