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Education

State Approves Two Kalispell Charter Schools

The Kalispell Rising Wolf Charter and Flathead PACE Academy will offer flexible learning for high school students within the Kalispell Public Schools

By Denali Sagner
Flathead High School in Kalispell on Dec. 20, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) will move forward with the creation of two in-district charter schools after the Montana Board of Public Education last week approved two of the district’s four charter proposals.

The board green-lighted Kalispell Rising Wolf Charter and Flathead PACE Academy Charter, two high school charter programs that will be located within Glacier High School and Flathead High School, respectively.

The programs were two of 19 new charter schools approved by the board last Friday, setting up the establishment of Montana’s first public charter schools in Billings, Helena, Kalispell, Bozeman, Great Falls, Missoula, East Helena, Frenchtown, Boulder, Hamilton and Corvallis. The charter schools were created under the framework of House Bill 549, a law passed by the 2023 Montana Legislature that allows existing school districts to create in-district charter schools. Under the law, the public charter schools are governed by local school boards and are subject to the laws that regulate Montana’s public education system.

Board of Public Education member Tim Tharp during last week’s meeting said that the board received 26 charter school applications during the current cycle, far exceeding the number of applications lawmakers and education officials anticipated.

The charter schools approved by the board are distinct from the community choice schools slated to be established under House Bill 562, a separate charter school bill that is currently tied up in court.

Flathead PACE Academy (Personalized Academic & Career Exploration), located within Flathead High School, will be a career-focused charter program for 10th, 11th and 12th grade students.

PACE Academy students will spend part of the school day taking their core classes in a flexible format through in-person instruction, Google Classroom and instructional videos. The other part of the day will consist of internships and career preparation activities. All PACE Academy students will take a course called “Career Exploration,” during which they will learn “personal and professional skills and experience work-based learning in a wide range of settings,” according to the application KPS administrators submitted to the Board of Public Education.

The charter school will be staffed by current Flathead High School teachers and paraprofessionals, with the exception of a career coordinator who will be hired specifically to work with PACE Academy students.

The Board of Public Education also approved Rising Wolf Charter School, a charter program within Glacier High School that will offer flexible scheduling and personalized learning opportunities for students.

At Rising Wolf Charter, students will take one class for three hours per day over the course of 24 days, rather than taking seven or eight classes every day for the entire academic year. The “block schedule” model will allow students to complete their chemistry credit in 24 days, then move onto their algebra credit, and then to their English credit, for example.

“The instructional design of our blocking schedule will allow students more immersive experiential learning opportunities and give them multiple options of their choice on how they show mastery of the course material,” the district’s application to the Board of Public Education reads. “They will also be part of a unique cohort of students, where the learning environment fosters collaboration and teamwork.”

The “block schedule” model is based off of a scheduling system used at the University of Montana Western in Dillon.

According to the application, the Rising Wolf model is designed to “give [students] voice and choice with their learning environment.”

Rising Wolf Charter would utilize current Glacier High School staff and resources.

The Board of Public Education denied approval of two additional charter school proposals submitted by KPS: the Kalispell Community Partnerships Charter and Rocky Mountain Academy.

The Kalispell Community Partnerships Charter sought to offer an “a-la-carte menu” to elementary school families who want to opt in and out of traditional public school offerings. The charter program was designed to attract homeschool families who may be interested in sending their children to school for part of the day.

Rocky Mountain Academy, which would have been housed within Kalispell Middle School, was designed to offer a combination of outdoor learning and core classes to middle school students. The program would have included small group classes, remote instruction and community engagement, largely through outdoor recreation.

Charters approved by the Board of Public Education are granted for five years, and school districts have a one year buffer period to prepare and plan before they must open the approved charter schools.

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