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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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Stanley high schoolers offered choice

School bus ride to Challis 
least favorite option

Express Staff Writer

Stanley, just 60 miles to the north of here, is still much like Ketchum might have been 100 years ago. It’s a lovely place to visit but it’s difficult to educate your kids there.

Student Ashley Hansen gets physical education, Stanley-style.. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Established in 1890, Stanley is one of the few towns remaining that still retains the ambiance of the region’s gold mining era. The slopes of the nearby Sawtooth, Boulder, White Cloud and Salmon River mountain ranges are littered with mining ghost towns, such as Vienna on Smiley Creek, Sawtooth City in Beaver, and Custer and Bonanza on the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River.

In the summer, the Sawtooth Valley swells with visitors who use Stanley as a base for explorations of the Salmon River, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and other attractions. In the winter, however, the town virtually shuts down.

There are several reasons for this, and not the least is that that there is no high school in Stanley.

Until recently, for students who reach high school age there have been three choices, none of them very attractive. They could either move with their families to Challis, board with a family in Challis during the school year, or take a school bus daily from Stanley to the Challis High School. The latter option means a two-hour bus ride each way over a winding, dangerous highway along the Salmon River.

Not content to let the status quo govern their lives, families in Stanley formed Sawtooth Valley High School Foundation and are working to bring a public high school to their small town.

Stanley has a well regarded kindergarten through eighth-grade school, which currently educates about 40 youngsters.

Student Shawn Burdon takes part in a kitchen-based biology lesson. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Among the fundamental reasons for a high school is that when families are forced to abandon Stanley for Challis, or to other communities, the town looses part of its vital work force as well as community members. This, in turn, hampers the community’s efforts to attract new residents with families.

"The establishment of a (high) school in Stanley will provide an absolutely necessary, integral part of infrastructure, which will enhance future community and economic development," said Keith Reese, chairman of the Sawtooth Valley High School; Foundation.

To address this dilemma, the Stanley Secondary Education Committee also was formed several years ago. It presented a study to the Challis School District in 1997. Over the next two years, the committee visited many public and private schools around the state and researched remote school situations in other states. The committee met again in 1999 and 2000 with the Challis School District and, on the strength of information received from the Idaho Department of Education, the committee and the school district believed that the establishment of a high school was imminent.

However, after further review, the Idaho Department of Education realized that until the school was established there was the possibility that some grades would have zero enrollment.

The education department maintains standards in attendance. If one grade is empty in a given year, state funding support drops. It refused to alter its interpretation of this law, and told the committee and school district that the department is in the business of education, not community development.

Two options were presented: open a temporary private high school, or ask for an amended interpretation of the education department’s funding tables, while changing the law regarding school closure issues of remote schools to affect existing schools only.

Students Shawn Burdon and Dale Reese tune up their instruments before a musical lesson. Express photo by David N. Seelig

This last issue might allow a school board wanting to start a school the chance to experiment without being irrevocably bound to a decision to open a school in a remote area.

The committee formed the Sawtooth Valley High School Foundation to carry out these objectives and continue the general effort to establish a secondary school.

It received non-profit status from Idaho in March.

As an interim step, the foundation is partially funding a private cooperative high school, using a "Distance Learning" curriculum on the Internet.

Four students—one in each grade—are currently taking advantage of this alternative to the four-hour bus drive to and from Challis. Two other high school students are taking the bus and one is driving.

The private school is temporarily located in a house previously owned by the Sawtooth Hotel, and now on loan from Albertsons College, which bought the hotel last year.

The students work together in one room though the curriculum is according to grade level. Sparky Easom is serving as headmaster, tutor and teacher.

"We’re pretty pleased with how it’s working out," Easom said. "It makes my work easier—who could argue with those ratios—one teacher to four students. As far as a traditional high school experience, it’s lucky that they get along so well together."

Additionally, Easom said, it was a family decision for the kids to stay in Stanley. "But as it turns out, these students would have chosen the private school over the bus as well as their parents choosing it for them. They’re really motivated."

Two of the students are taking math and science together and three are studying Spanish together. Currently, Easom is facilitating 13 different courses during this semester.

"I help with pacing and keeping them on track. One of the important skills is budgeting their time, setting goals for their performances. In the future I see us getting more students, and taking full advantage of the Internet, more involvement from outside experts, and hopefully do more field trips. Utilizing outdoor resources, that we have around us, and incorporate it in the curriculum, it’s one of the advantages to being in Stanley."

Student Ashley Hansen, 17, the sole senior, lives in town on her own. She works full time at the Mountain Village, and said it was too hard to get up every day to take the bus to Challis. After a month of taking the bus to Challis, she quit going.

In the long run it’s worked out well for her. "In public school I was more worried about hanging around with people. Now, I’m more concerned with my grades and what’s going to happen after high school."

The parents help with the physical education program—taking the kids mountain biking, for instance, and on one recent weekend a climbing guide took them climbing at the City of Rocks, near Almo, Idaho. Easom said that local experts will come in and do a presentation, such as biologists who work in the valley who’ve taken them on field trips.

To help them further the cause, the foundation has enlisted help from Idaho State Sen. Don Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, who is on the Senate Education Committee. He will be presenting legislation to change the interpretation of Idaho Code 33-102 (6), which limits state funding for remote schools based on attendance.

Reese said that he "asked them to step into the fray and direct the Department of Education to do the right thing."

Reese, himself, is a parent of the only 10th grader at the private school. His son Dale "enjoys going to Wood River and Challis dances, and enjoys the environment," in Stanley, but is "looking for ways to increase his social activity."

It is costing additional money for tax paying Stanley parents for their kids to attend this school.

Each parent is currently paying $2,000, while the community and various donations are making up the remainder of the school’s annual budget of $27,000.

Finally, the foundation is still attempting to fund a multi-purpose high school building, which would inclusively act as a gym, auditorium and community center.

The community’s needs, as a whole, would be served by a new facility of this kind, said Reese.

The Partnership 2001 fundraising effort has accumulated $22,630 to date. Their goal for this year is $50,000, and in 20002 is $56,000.



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