Another charter school could be on its way in north Meridian.
Last year Gem Prep: Meridian opened its doors in south Meridian for K-6 students. Now the school’s administrators, Gem Innovation Schools, want to open another similarly structured charter school on the other side of Interstate 84.
The proposed school, on North McDermott Road between Chinden Boulevard and McMillan Road, is on track to open in August 2021 with classes for K-6 — growing to offer middle and high school by 2026. Like Gem Prep: Meridian, the school would focus on college preparedness, with a goal to get 60% of its students to graduate high school with an associate degree.
The school would add to the roughly 62 charter schools in the state of Idaho, with at least four more on the way later this year in Caldwell, Middleton, Fruitland and Pocatello.
Before opening, Gem Prep: Meridian North has to be chartered by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. The West Ada school board voted July 15 to send Gem Prep: Meridian to the commission rather than charting it under the district. Charter schools can either be chartered by the school district they’re in or by the commission.
The commission is scheduled to hear the charter school’s petition at their Oct. 10 meeting, according to Tamara Baysinger, commission director.
Gem Innovation Schools, a nonprofit, manages three brick-and-mortar schools, including Gem Prep: Pocatello, open since 2014, Gem Prep: Nampa, open since 2016, and Gem Prep: Meridian, open since 2018. The nonprofit also manages the Idaho Distance Education Academy, which opened in 2004 when the nonprofit was founded.
Meridian’s growth is one of the main reasons Gem Innovation Schools wants to open a second charter school in the city in such a short period of time, CEO Jason Bransford said.
“The demand in Meridian is higher than anywhere else in the rest of the state,” Bransford said during the West Ada school board meeting.
By 2021 the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho estimates 1,041 new residential units will be built within a one-mile radius of the school, according to the charter petition. With only one year under its belt, Gem Prep: Meridian has a 500-student waitlist, with enrollment for the school’s 400 seats filled for the 2019-20 school year.
Gem Innovation Schools staff anticipate many of the waitlist families would enroll at North Meridian — as well as some of the 21% of families enrolled at Gem Prep: Meridian that live closer to proposed school, the document stated.
Gem Innovation Schools estimate they will need 50,000 square feet total when the new school is at full build-out — including 21 classrooms, a high school commons area and 10 high school “collab rooms.” The facility is estimated to cost $9 million, the petition stated.
Staff are working to receive a grant from the nonprofit foundation Bluum. Earlier this year Gem Prep: Meridian was awarded $80,000 to help the school expand into middle and high school, and meet student achievement goals. Bluum is awarding millions of dollars in federal grant money to charter schools acround the state with a goal of opening up 8,200 more charter school seats.
With the grant, Gem Prep: Meridan North could purchase property and build the entire facility by July 2021. Without the grant, school officials plan to build the facility over three years — construction it in two phases with classrooms and space for K-8 students being built first, and then starting construction on space for high schoolers in October 2022, according to the document. The school would rely on loans and money raised from local and national foundations, the petition said.
If Gem Prep: Meridian North gets approval, Gem Innovation Schools would begin hiring staff for the school in 2020, said Shay Angelo, development director for the nonprofit.