TWIN FALLS — Whether it’s smaller class sizes, the opportunity to play an instrument in a school orchestra or the chance to learn outdoors, parents have many reasons for choosing a charter school for their children.
Open enrollment happens over the next two months for south-central Idaho’s four charter schools. Xavier Charter School in Twin Falls, Heritage Academy in Jerome, North Valley Academy in Gooding and Syringa Mountain School in Hailey are public, tuition-free schools and are open to all students.
They have the flexibility to offer innovative programs. But they still receive state and federal funding, and have to adhere to regular public school requirements, including standardized testing. Once prospective charter school families turn in applications, openings at each school will be filled this spring through a lottery system.
Some people nationwide oppose charter schools, though, and say they draw students and money away from traditional public schools instead of helping to improve them.
So how do parents weigh the decision of which school to choose for their child? What can they expect at a charter school? Meet three local families who’ve been through it:
School: Heritage Academy (Jerome)
About the school: Heritage Academy, which opened in 2011, has fewer than 200 students in kindergarten through eighth grades. It offers full-day kindergarten, and a free breakfast and lunch program for all students.
Their story: It’s the first year Ruth Ann Harker’s two youngest children — a 12-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl — have attended Heritage Academy.
Harker has four children and she previously homeschooled them. The family lives two-and-a-half miles west of Jerome.
Her 18 and 12-year-old boys both struggle with learning issues, she said. For her 12-year-old, “he needed more than what I could give him.”
Harker talked with different schools to determine what would be the best fit for him — and her daughter, too.
This spring, she was driving past Heritage Academy and decided to come into the school office. “They immediately sat down with me, even though I didn’t have an appointment,” Harker said.
She visited with school superintendent Christine Ivie for two hours. The staff offered to let her children sit in on a class.
After that experience, Harker decided to enroll her son and daughter.
During a phone interview Tuesday, she started crying. “I’ve seen my kids struggle so hard,” she said. But now, she said she sees them excelling, loving school and they come home smiling.
Harker said she likes the small class sizes. Her daughter struggles with math, and her teacher works with her one-on-one.
Harker said her son learns best through hands-on activities. School staff suggested he’d do better in a different science class and moved him to where he’d excel.
School: Syringa Mountain School (Hailey)
About the school: Syringa Mountain School, which opened in 2014, has fewer than 150 students in kindergarten through sixth grades. In the fall, it will add seventh grade.
The public Waldorf school has a nature-oriented approach that de-emphasizes technology. Children learn through methods such as storytelling, music and hands-on projects.
Their story: After seven years away from the Wood River Valley — in Portland, Ore., and one year abroad — Jamie Truppi and her husband decided to move back when their son was a year old.
Once the family settled in Bellevue, they weren’t sure what type of school to seek for their son.
Truppi wanted him to grow up outside playing in the dirt and self-directing based on his interests. “As it turns out, that turned out to be a lot of Waldorf preschools,” she said.
Her son attended Sweet Clover School, a Waldorf-inspired preschool in Hailey, for two years.
“It totally shifted my mindset about school in general,” she said. It was a chance to “flourish based on their own developmental learning, rather than what a government says is right.”
When looking into kindergarten options, Truppi felt strongly about developing her son’s brain capacity through exposure to world languages and she was considering dual immersion through the Blaine County School District.
“I felt really conflicted,” she said.
Truppi said her son is very bright and was speaking French with her when he was 2 years old. But after visiting Syringa Mountain School, she knew it was the right place for him.
She especially likes the focus on arts, hands-on work and “developing inner character,” she said.
Truppi’s son is in kindergarten this school year. She also has a daughter, who turns three next month.
“I’m grateful to land into a community of like-minded parents who didn’t want their kids to have too much structure,” Truppi said. “We wanted our kids to learn on their own just by exploring their environment.”
Syringa isn’t a “super hippy” environment where it’s a free-for-all, Truppi said. The school is very structured, “but in a free-flowing way that gently nudges children in a direction they’re already going.”
Truppi said she has seen tremendous growth this school year in her son.
The vast majority of Syringa parents are in professional careers, she said, and they’re a close-knit group who share the same ideals and are involved in keeping the school running.
“We’re not just a bunch of hat-making hippies,” she said. “Even if we are, that’s OK.”
School: Xavier Charter School (Twin Falls)
About the school: Xavier Charter School, which opened in 2007, has more than 700 students in kindergarten through 12th grades.
The school is known for its rigorous academics and high test scores. It uses a classical model of education with an emphasis on fine arts, including music, theater, dance and visual arts.
Their story: All four of the Albrecht children have attended Xavier, beginning when the school opened more than a decade ago.
Now, the youngest child is a senior in high school. His older siblings are 20, 22 and 24 years old.
“We’ve been involved since day one,” father Steven Albrecht said. “Our kids seemed like they were a little bored in the normal school system and we wanted them to be a little more challenged than they were.”
Albrecht and his wife heard about Xavier opening and started looking into it. The Twin Falls parents liked the sound of more rigorous academics and thought it may be a good fit for their children.
“We liked what their ideas were with the arts and things like that,” he said. “It was all a plus.”
Over the years, “we’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything we’ve seen at the school,” Albrecht said. Among his four children, they were involved in just about every activity at Xavier.
There are high expectations for students, he said. “For us, we’re grateful for the challenge of the classroom.”
TWIN FALLS — One Magic Valley couple tried just about everything to help their child who was struggling through school. The solution? Archery.
Several years after joining the Magic Valley Bowhunters, the teenager no longer struggles in school and even has the confidence to captain sports teams in high school.
“Archery is considered a lifelong sport,” President Mark Jenkins said. “Besides just being something fun to do, it makes a difference.”
The Magic Valley Bowhunters aim to promote archery and make it accessible for youth. But in the summer of 2016, the club was forced to vacate its indoor archery range and clubhouse so the building could be demolished to make way for a parking lot.
On Thursday, the club was one of 11 organizations to receive money from the First Federal Foundation. Its $5,000 grant will go toward refurbishing the club’s next indoor shooting range and bringing it up to ADA compliance.
The foundation presented the check to the Magic Valley Bowhunters during a luncheon at the Blue Lakes Country Club. First Federal Foundation donated more than $73,000 to organizations that applied for grants in 2017, and this was the second round of those grants. The grants help nonprofits address needs throughout the community.
“We certainly appreciate the opportunity to play a small part of that, and support you in the projects that you’re working on,” First Federal CEO and President Jason Meyerhoeffer said.
The First Federal Foundation gets about 50 requests for grants with each round of applications, but few groups are selected, Foundation chairman Tom Ashenbrener said. The foundation began in 2003 with a $1 million donation from the bank.
Grants awarded Thursday included a range of nonprofits serving young and old. The money will help expand services, provide basic needs to people with disabilities and even save lives.
Here’s a recap of where the money is going:
“Our mission is literally bringing the universe to everyone in the community,” said Tom Frazier, president of the Magic Valley Astronomical Society.
The club will use the grant money to buy a trailer so it can more easily move equipment for presentations and community events. The trailer will also be used to store equipment. Currently, Frazier said, the club has had to use several vehicles to transport everything.
Rising Stars provides equine therapy for people with disabilities. This year, the organization purchased its own property to develop. The grant money will go toward building paddocks for the horses and user-friendly spaces where people can emotionally bond with and care for the animals.
This organization helps children from kindergarten through high school achieve financial literacy, Director of Development Cory Rodriguez said.
Junior Achievement of Idaho has taught 4,000 students in the Magic Valley about balancing a checkbook, filing tax returns and applying for student loans. The grant money will help the group reach 114 more students who are at or below the poverty level at Title One schools.
On Sunday, the ski patrol had trouble communicating with one another while assisting a couple of lost skiers on Magic Mountain.
“We use our own radios, and they are spotty at best,” patrol director Ken Wiesmore said.
The grant money will pay for new radios with a stronger signal, as well as a new toboggan to transport people off the mountain.
Changing technology is driving a need for schools to familiarize students with using it. Castleford School District will use the grant money to buy a set of Chromebooks for the junior high class, Assistant Principal Dena Allred said.
This organization provides life skills training and job coaching for adults with disabilities. Some of its staff use wheelchairs, marketing director Susan Nickell said. The grant will make the front door of the facility wheelchair-accessible.
“They will go through with dignity,” she said.
As the organization expands into Rupert with after-school services, the First Federal grant will provide computers for the new facility.
The organization helps those with disadvantages in the Magic Valley. The money granted to Mustard Seed Ministries will purchase 10 brand-new beds for children who are coming out of protective services, business manager Liz Mandelkow said.
The Twin Falls Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels program served 52,000 meals to home-bound seniors last year, Executive Director Jeanette Rowe said. This grant money will go to purchase stainless steel counters, shelving and container storage for the center’s kitchen to run efficiently.
The first historical society in Lincoln County will use the money to purchase new cases and items to display in its museum, Vice President Payson Reese said. The expansion will include items from the Shoshone American Legion Hall.
If you do one thing: A community dance will be held with music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.
BOISE — The state will not appoint a new district judge to fill the vacancy left by the death of Judge Randy Stoker, the Idaho Judicial Council announced this week.
Typically, when a district judge seat opens up before the judge’s term is set to expire, the Judicial Council puts out a notice for applicants to fill the seat. Finalists selected by the council then undergo an interview process with the governor, who makes a final decision.
But the timing of Stoker’s death complicates things. Stoker’s term expires Dec. 31, 2018, and those who wish to file their candidacy for the next district judge election must do so between Feb. 26 and Mar. 9.
It’s highly unlikely that the state will have selected a replacement by then, the council said in a statement, so any appointment that the governor made would have to be after candidates had already filed for the race.
Because of this timing — and because the replacement would be in office for such a short period — the state will not appoint a new district judge before the election, the council said.
In the meantime, the district will continue to rely on other current and retired district judges to temporarily fill Stoker’s seat.
BOISE — Republicans on an Idaho House panel on Thursday once again agreed to introduce anti-Sharia law legislation designed to prevent Idaho courts from making decisions based on Islamic or other foreign legal codes.
This is the third year in a row Rep. Eric Redman, a Republican from Athol, has brought legislation forward that says courts, administrative agencies or state tribunals can’t base rulings on any foreign law or legal system that would not grant the parties the same rights guaranteed by state and U.S. constitutions.
“State legislatures have a role to play in protecting constitutional rights,” said Redman, who is not seeking re-election this year. “If states do not have a role, why do we have state constitutions?”
The proposal doesn’t specifically mention Sharia law. However, pictures of a severed hand and a man about to be beheaded were included in the information packet Redman originally distributed to legislative leaders when he first introduced the proposal in 2016. The pictures were pasted in between definitions of Sharia law and accusing the Prophet Muhammad of being a pedophile.
Shariah law is derived of the Quran and rulings and sayings by the Prophet Muhammad.
There are no known cases in which an Idaho judge has based a ruling on Islamic law and Redman did not provide specific examples when asked by Democratic Rep. Elaine Smith of Pocatello.
“This is a wonderful piece of legislation, I’m happy to introduce this,” said Rep. James Holtzclaw, a Republican from Meridian and member of the House panel.
The House State Affairs panel agreed via voice vote to introduce the bill, but it still must clear a full hearing — which has not yet been scheduled.
There are 11 states —Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Washington —that prohibit the use of foreign law in their state courts as of 2017, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.