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STEM Charter dials back dual credit at NIC

Staff Writer | January 10, 2023 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — North Idaho STEM Charter Academy in Rathdrum will scale back its dual credit offerings through North Idaho College, looking instead to partner with other educational institutions.

“With recent abrupt changes in leadership, incomprehensible financial decisions and the imminent loss of accreditation at North Idaho College, we must seek other opportunities with institutions that can offer our students and faculty peace of mind and protect the credibility of their hard work,” said a letter school leaders sent Friday to Greg South, NIC’s interim president.

Scott Thomson, STEM Charter founder and executive director, said Monday that the decision was purely practical.

“Some people want to make it about politics,” he said Monday. “I have one agenda and that’s kids.”

NIC served 58 dual credit students from North Idaho STEM this fall.

“It is unfortunate this opportunity has been withdrawn from the students,” said Laura Rumpler, NIC’s chief communications and government relations officer.

Of the 24 seniors in this year’s graduating class at STEM Charter, 21 are expected to earn an associate’s degree through NIC along with their high school diploma, while the rest are on track to complete a technical certification.

Rumpler said NIC is setting up a meeting with North Idaho STEM leaders “to discuss their concerns, share factual information about us remaining an accredited institution and see how we can continue to offer dual credit opportunities for all students at STEM Charter Academy.”

Since 2015, STEM Charter has partnered with NIC to offer dual credit options. Sophomores can take classes on the STEM Charter campus for college credit through NIC, while juniors and seniors split their time each week between STEM Charter and the NIC campus.

The charter school’s dual credit teachers have become certified to teach through the University of Idaho. The university will also allow STEM Charter students to matriculate with an associate’s degree.

U of I has also agreed to provide more than $6,000 in scholarships to North Idaho STEM students who have exhausted the money available to them through the Advanced Opportunities program, Thomson said. The program can pay up to $75 per credit for dual credit courses and career and technical education classes.

Though STEM Charter has requested that several late-start sessions on the NIC campus be canceled, the school will continue to offer some classes through NIC for the time being.

Thomson said the school is not severing its relationship with NIC at this time but will continue to scale back its offerings through the college until such a time as NIC is stable.

“We’re just laying the groundwork and making sure we can offer accredited education for kids,” he said. “It would be irresponsible not to make sure our kids are going to be covered.”

Thomson said feedback from parents has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s not political for them, either,” he said. “They just want to make sure their kids are going to a stable environment.”

Suzanne Gallus is a parent of two STEM Charter students, as well as two dual credit Lakeland High School students. She learned of the changes to STEM Charter’s dual credit offerings Saturday, when Thomson sent an email to parents.

“I was relieved,” Gallus said of the announcement. “It also made me feel that those of us who have been concerned about NIC were not overreacting. This is really serious.”

Thomson didn’t mince words in his email to parents explaining the dual credit decision.

“We cannot take a chance on our students’ future with the irresponsible actions of the NIC board members that are holding the institution hostage and wasting taxpayer money,” he wrote. “We hope to be able to utilize NIC in the future, if they maintain their accreditation. However, this gives us more bandwidth and options for our students.”

The email included a copy of the school’s letter to South.

“If you’re keeping score, that is now the 4th president in a year and a half and over $500,000 paid out to them in salary and another $500,000 to the first one that they fired without cause,” Thomson told parents.

Gallus said she thinks STEM Charter’s move was a “wake up call” to some parents who have downplayed the ongoing turmoil at NIC as inconsequential.

“Kids who want to stay local can’t go anywhere else,” she said. “People don’t realize what a huge impact this has on the community. (NIC) is our only affordable option.”

Thomson said STEM Charter will continue to prioritize the stability of students’ education.

“We have no control over what happens at NIC but we do have control over how we respond to it,” he said. “Our first responsibility is to protect those kids.”