North Idaho Classical Academy gains state approval for 2025 opening

(Originally posted in IdahoEdNews.org on December 18, 2023)

By Darren Svan

Boulder Creek AcademyAmerican Classical Schools of Idaho (ACSI) gained state approval last week to open its third Idaho school in the span of six years. North Idaho Classical Academy will be located near Bonners Ferry and is scheduled to open in August 2025. The other two schools are Treasure Valley Classical Academy in Fruitland and Idaho Novus Classical Academy in Eagle.

ACSI’s model in Idaho uses Hillsdale College curriculum, a scope and sequence that meets or exceeds Idaho standards, school organizers told the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. The public charter commission, Idaho’s largest charter school authorizer, approved the new charter for a five-year term. The school will serve students in grades K-12 and there are currently 493 students interested in attending. When it opens in 2025, it will serve K-6, then add a grade each year.

There are three additional ACSI schools in the organizational phase — two in the Treasure Valley and one in Burley. North Idaho’s attendance zone will include Bonner’s Ferry, Moyie Springs, Samuels, Ponderay, Naples and Kootenai.

A survey of interested families revealed that 69-percent of the respondents are homeschool families switching into the public school system. ACSI is a non-profit organization that exists to support the startup and growth of Hillsdale member schools in Idaho, which are public charter schools open to all interested students. The new North Idaho charter will occupy the former site of Boulder Creek Academy, a now-defunct residential care and treatment facility for troubled children of affluent parents.

The school complex along with 15 acres was owned by Paul Ware, who bought the 120-acre property near Bonners Ferry in 2022. Ware is a supporter of the classical school model. He sold the complex and acreage, valued at $8.5 million, for $3.5 million to ACSI, according to a press release from Bluum, a Boise-based nonprofit that supports charter schools throughout the state. Bluum worked closely with ACSI developing the classical academies.

“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 in the press release.

The school will be led by Jacob Francom, a public school principal and superintendent from Troy, Montana, who is a Bluum “Idaho New School Fellow.” Francom said that local school districts have been receptive to the idea of the school opening. But new commission director Jacob Smith read a letter of opposition from Barbara Russell, chair of the Boundary County Human Rights Task Force.

Russell criticized the Hillsdale curriculum, claiming that it does not meet state standards and “is not appropriate for modern education.” The letter also claimed that Stephen Lambert, executive director of ASCI, participated in a program with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an organization that advocates for the elimination of public education, according to Russell’s letter.

To learn more about Hillsdale Charter School affiliates and the curriculum, visit this link.

Lambert was emphatic in his response — neither ACSI nor its three members schools have any affiliation with the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

“American classical schools of Idaho and its schools have it as their mission to educate future citizens. We have absolutely no interest in partisan affairs,” Lambert said. Two years ago, Lambert was asked to participate in a forum about education hosted by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.  “I was asked because of my practical experience with the American classical education model, a distinctly public model of which our schools are members. I presented that model of public education at that forum. I have not interacted with the Idaho Freedom Foundation since,” Lambert told commissioners.

The public charter commission requested more details about the school’s financing options. There are several lenders interested in funding the school and two major grants will be made available, organizers explained. And the school will hold an estimated $5 million worth of equity when it’s purchased. The public charter commission approved the school’s petition unanimously.

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