A Meridian charter school plans to break ground on a new building in October.
Last year Gem Prep: Meridian opened its doors for the first time for students kindergarten through sixth. Throughout the next three years the school plans to expand, serving students up to 12th grade.
Last week the school submitted permits to the city of Meridian to expand into a new building. The building will be 16,000 to 18,000 square feet and will include a gym, cafeteria, administrative offices and eight classrooms. Gem Prep: Meridian principal Nanette Lehman said staff estimates the new building will be completed in July 2020.
The public charter school, focusing on college preparedness, is expanding to seventh and eighth grade for the 2019-20 school year, with room for 400 students. As of Monday those seats were all full and the school had a wait list of 495 students, Lehman said.
The school plans to add ninth and 10th grade classes in the 2020-21 school year and grades 11th and 12th in 2021-22. The new building will be on the same campus as Gem Prep: Meridian, on Overland Road just west of Eagle Road. The school leases a 30,000-square-foot building with 17 classrooms from Building Hope, a private foundation that helps charter schools finance their buildings. Building Hope also is paying for the expansion, said Josh Femreite, chief operating officers for Gem Prep.
Gem Prep: Meridian eventually plans to buy both buildings. Femreite didn’t know the timeline of the purchases or the amount the school was paying in lease payments per year.
Gem Prep: Meridian is the third brick and mortar public school operated by Gem Innovation Schools. The other two locations are Gem Prep: Nampa, opened in 2016, and Gem Prep: Pocatello, opened in 2014. Idaho Distance Education Academy is also run by Gem Innovation Schools, opening in 2004.
ISAT and IRI scores for Idaho schools, including Gem Prep: Meridian, will not be finalized until mid-August, said Kris Rodine, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Education.
The class size for grades kindergarten through third is 24 students and the class size for fourth through eighth is 30 students. The school has two classes per grade, except for fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades, which each have one classroom. Lehman said the school would continue to expand until it had two classrooms per grade.
PREPARING STUDENTS FOR COLLEGE
Gem Prep: Meridian focuses its instruction on preparing students for college. The school’s goal is to have 60 percent of its seniors graduate from the charter school with an associates degree, according to Lehman.
The school uses data to determine where a student is in the learning process and then individualizes lesson plans for each student. The school uses a rotation model, putting students in smaller groups so they can work with teachers or paraprofessionals. Students are also allowed to take online classes. All of this is designed to help students learn at their own pace, whether that is faster or slower than their classmates, Lehman said,
“I think all students learn at various rates,” she said. “They have different abilities; they have different strengths that they bring to the table... I think we do them in an injustice when we expect them to learn the same and at the same rate.”
The school staff meet with each student weekly to help them create and address learning goals. Lehman said using that data, staff will help students move up a grade if they’re doing well academically and socially.
“Our number one goal is to provide a meaningful learning environment,” Lehman said.
The 2019-20 school year starts Aug. 19 and ends May 29, 2020.