BOISE — Two Magic Valley charter schools received approval Tuesday to keep their doors open for the next five years.
The Idaho Public Charter School Commission gave an OK to charter renewals for Heritage Academy in Jerome and Syringa Mountain School in Hailey.
It means the schools can continue to plan for the future. But the renewals — effective July 2017 through June 2022 — come with conditions schools must meet or they’ll face further review.
“It’s nice to have the charter commission’s support and confidence in our school,” said Christine Fonner, school administrator for Syringa Mountain School.
She said it’s important for the school to be held accountable.
Charter renewals are a new requirement through the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, said Christine Ivie, administrator at Heritage Academy.
And the renewal application was a huge project.
It was 800 pages — longer than the dissertation for Ivie’s doctoral degree in education — and it took two months to complete.
Ivie said she and a group of other Idaho charter school officials are worried about the cumbersome process and would like to see it streamlined.
It takes up a lot of time that could be spent helping students, she added.
“For us, we’re really happy our charter is renewed for five years,” Ivie said.
Heritage Academy, which opened in 2011, has about 180 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.
In addition to traditional curriculum, it uses a school-wide enrichment model developed by professors at the University of Connecticut.
Each week, students choose from topics such as woodworking, music, business or science, and work on producing real-world products and services.
One condition for the school’s charter renewal: boosting proficiency levels in all subject areas on the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests for third through eighth grades to meet or exceed the Jerome School District’s rates by 2020.
The charter commission also set targets for academic growth measures for continuously-enrolled students.
Showing academic growth is important, Ivie said, and “a better measure in the long run” than proficiency.
Within the last one-and-a-half years, Heritage Academy has implemented new reading and math programs.
“We think they’re more effective in meeting kids’ needs,” Ivie said.
About 94 percent of Heritage Academy students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. And 40 percent of the student body has special needs or is an English language learner.
But the biggest challenge for the school: poor attendance rates and high mobility, which may be an impact of poverty, Ivie said.
About 24 percent of students are proficient on the ISAT when they enroll, Ivie said. For those who stay for three years, the proficiency rate rises to 84 percent.
Syringa Mountain School
Syringa Mountain School, which opened in 2014, serves 137 students in kindergarten through sixth grades.
The public Waldorf school has a nature-oriented approach that de-emphasizes technology, with the goal of developing students’ imaginations.
Syringa must raise its ISAT scores in English/language arts and math to average state levels or higher by 2020, according to the charter commission.
“They want to see test scores improve to be competitive with neighboring schools in our region,” Fonner said.
When Syringa opened three years ago, 75 percent of students were below grade level in English/language arts and math, she said.
Since Fonner started as administrator in July, she implemented a new literacy and math program to boost test scores and is already seeing improvement.
Syringa has also faced frequent administrative turnover and “persistent under-enrollment,” according to the charter commission.
And it’s dealing with significant financial struggles, the commission says, but has done extensive fundraising.
Fundraising makes up about 20 percent of the school’s budget, Fonner said. “We tend to operate on less money than the local school districts because we have to.”