TWIN FALLS — The noise of students cheering was deafening Friday during an Xavier Charter School assembly.
It sounded like a party. But it soon became clear this party was still focused on the school’s classical education model.
Xavier co-founder and lead teacher Becky Baird repeated a phrase in Latin every time she wanted to get students’ attention. Students recited the English translation until everyone was quiet: “I am not led. I lead.”
The purpose of the assembly: to celebrate the Twin Falls public charter school’s 10th anniversary.
Xavier — one of the Magic Valley’s first charter schools — opened in 2007 to kindergarten through eighth graders. It expanded to include ninth through 12th grades incrementally after that.
Baird told students she worked with another person, Cindy Fulcher, to launch the school. “You are our dream. You really are.”
Xavier is known for its rigorous academics and high test scores. It uses a classical model of education and emphasizes music, theater, dance and visual arts.
But it wasn’t always a smooth ride. In its early years, Xavier faced frequent administrative turnover and major financial problems.
In 2012, the school received a notice of defect from the Idaho Public Charter School Commission for “failure to demonstrate financial soundness.” The school nearly closed after struggling with high rent costs.
But things turned around. The school reached an agreement in February 2013 with its landlord, cutting rent payments nearly in half, and keeping the doors open. And in April 2015, the school’s board finalized a deal to buy its building for $6.5 million.
During Friday’s assembly, Xavier’s choir sang the school anthem and students recited the school creed. Teachers recited their own creed.
Baird told students the story behind the school’s name. Fulcher loved the name “Xavier” and wanted something with special meaning, Baird said.
They found out St. Xavier, a Jesuit priest during the Middle Ages, worked alongside other priests to preserve a body of knowledge “during this dark, dark time,” Baird said.
Friday’s event also served as an Arbor Day celebration. The school recently planted a linden tree in memory of longtime Magic Valley educator Mel Wiseman, who died in October 2015.
He helped lead Xavier through a transitional period as a consultant, beginning in 2011.
Students learned about the history of Arbor Day, as well as Wiseman’s life. Third-graders recited a poem about trees.
The tree planted in front of Xavier is “in honor of someone very special to our school,” Baird told students.
Wiseman was “a man who had a big heart,” said Debbie Burr, who has been on Xavier’s school board for six years.
Xavier is big on stories and literature, Burr told students, adding they “give us big ideas to chew on in our heads” and introduce us to heroes. Wiseman, she said, was a hero.
After retiring as a school teacher, coach, principal and superintendent, Wiseman and his consulting partner traveled to schools “that needed a little bit of help,” Burr said.
During a first budget meeting with Xavier officials, Wiseman laid out the facts and told the school board Xavier would be in a financial hole, Burr said.
Wiseman helped Xavier with its finances, Burr said, and made sure people in power in Idaho education knew about the school. He even fertilized and mowed the school lawn for two summers.
As Xavier grew up, it didn’t need as much help, Burr said, but Wiseman still loved coming by the school. She presented a plant and plaque to Wiseman’s wife, Bev.
Students filed out the front doors to see the tree. As they gathered around it on the breezy afternoon, it was a reminder of a man who helped Xavier through difficult times.
Now, the school is celebrating a milestone anniversary and looking to the future.