State, Kalispell School Board Green Light Charter School Agreements 

Flathead PACE Academy and Rising Wolf Charter will begin enrolling high school students this spring  

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

Two public charter school programs will open within the Kalispell Public Schools this fall, after the school board on Tuesday night approved contracts with the Montana Board of Public Education. 

The board voted unanimously to approve charter contracts for Flathead PACE Academy, a career-focused charter program within Flathead High School, and Rising Wolf Charter, a flexible, block-schedule learning model within Glacier High School. Both schools will operate within existing Kalispell Public Schools buildings and will utilize existing staff, with the exception of one career coach who will be hired at Flathead PACE Academy. Each charter programs is set to bring in $274,786 in state funding, a much needed boost for the district in the wake of a looming budget crisis and numerous failed levies

“This is giving our students and parents more choice,” board chair Heather Asher said “I back this. I like this idea. I think this is the route we’re headed with our schools.”

Flathead PACE Academy (Personalized Academic & Career Exploration) is a career-focused charter program for 10th, 11th and 12th grade students. Students at PACE Academy will spend part of the school day taking core classes in a flexible format through in-person and online instruction. The rest of the day will consist of internships and career preparation activities. All PACE Academy students will take a course called “Career Exploration,” in which they will learn professional skills and experience work-based learning opportunities.

Rising Wolf Charter School will offer flexible scheduling and personalized learning opportunities for students who may be seeking an alternative educational model. 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” format — which is modeled off of a formula used at the University of Montana Western campus in Dillon — will allow students to complete their English credit in 24 days, then move onto their biology credit, and then to their geometry credit, for example.

Flathead High School Principal Michelle Paine said that 80 students have expressed interest in enrolling in PACE Academy. The charter program will operate out of a flexible, multi-purpose space that was added to the Flathead High School building during a 2017 renovation. Paine said the space “is going to work really, really well” for the program. 

Brad Holloway, Glacier High School principal, said that 60 students have expressed interest in enrolling full-time in Rising Wolf Charter, with additional students saying they would be interested in opting into the program part-time. Holloway said the University of Montana Western has provided examples of block-schedule syllabi and has offered to connect Glacier High School teachers to college faculty who can train them on teaching in a block-schedule model. 

The administrators added that students from other school districts in the Flathead Valley have expressed interest in the charter schools, but none have officially committed to attending the programs in the fall.

In order to receive the $274,786 basic entitlement from the state, each charter school must hit a minimum enrollment of 41 full-time students. Both Paine and Holloway said they’re very confident the charter programs will enroll at least 41 students. 

Board trustees on Tuesday raised questions about the operations of both schools, including how the charter schools will handle student delinquency, if students will be able to receive a diploma from the charter program and the Kalispell high school in which the charter is located, and if the charter programs will align with the district’s personalized competency-based education (PCBE) efforts. 

Administrators said that while there are a number of questions left to answer before the programs get up and running next fall, they’re confident in the district’s ability to iron out the issues. 

Assistant Superintendent Peter Fusaro told trustees that he believes the two charter schools “perfectly align with the work we’re doing with personalized competency-based learning.”

Flathead PACE Academy and Rising Wolf Charter were two of 19 charter schools approved by the Montana Board of Public Education at its Wednesday meeting. The charter schools approved on Wednesday will be run by local school boards and overseen at-large by the Board of Public Education. Each charter contract is approved for five years, at which point school districts will have the opportunity to seek charter renewal. In addition to Kalispell, charter programs will open in Billings, Boulder, Bozeman, Corvallis, Frenchtown, Hamilton, Helena, East Helena, Great Falls and Missoula in the next 18 months. 

“I think this provides a lot of exciting opportunities from schools. In reading all of the applications from school districts, you could just feel the energy and excitement that they had about the opportunities that these public charter school offerings would be able to provide in their schools,” Board of Public Education member Madalyn Quinlan said during the Wednesday morning meeting. 

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