TWIN FALLS — Growth will likely be the name of the game for south-central Idaho schools in 2018.
Here are four of the biggest education stories to watch this year:
New Kimberly elementary school
Fall 2018 will bring huge change for Kimberly — the town’s second elementary school. It will also be the first time elementary schoolers are divided into attendance zones to determine which school they’ll attend.
It’s a sign of rapid growth in Kimberly as new subdivisions are being built and more families are moving into the area.
The existing Kimberly Elementary School is bursting at the seams. With about 900 students, it’s the largest elementary school in Idaho.
To help alleviate the overcrowding, construction began this spring on a new, 50,000-square-foot school. The project will cost an estimated $10.7 million.
The campus spans 10 acres at the corner of Polk Street West and Emerald Drive North, east of Ballards Way subdivision.
Once the new school opens, the existing elementary school will get a cosmetic facelift and safety upgrades.
and levy elections
Despite a slowdown in enrollment across Idaho in elementary through high schools this school year, many local school districts are seeing growth rates hold steady.
The Twin Falls School District has more than 9,400 students and expects its 2-4 percent yearly growth to continue for the foreseeable future.
In 2014, voters passed a nearly $74 million bond to build two new elementary schools and a middle school. New Twin Falls campuses aren’t on the horizon for the immediate future, but expect growth to continue to be a key topic this year.
Enrollment growth isn’t just affecting Twin Falls. Some neighboring school districts, including Jerome and Filer, are looking into long-term facility needs.
Xavier Charter School in Twin Falls has a committee to look at how to add building space to handle a growing number of students.
There are more than 700 students in kindergarten through 12th grades — and nearly 300 on a waiting list — and the existing building is overcrowded.
The school is considering an addition — likely, into the south lawn off the high school wing — to add more classrooms and specialty spaces for art, band and science classes.
Since public charter schools aren’t allowed to bring a ballot measure to voters, Xavier is looking to hire a fundraising director by January or February to lead a capital campaign to raise money for an expansion.
Meanwhile, the Jerome and Twin Falls school districts will go to voters in March asking for renewal of 10-year plant facilities levies. Those are used for building maintenance projects.
In Twin Falls, the measure will be for $4.75 million each year. In Jerome, the district is seeking $650,000 annually for the first five years and $700,000 annually for the next five years.
New superintendents in Cassia County and Wendell
Now, the school boards are looking to hire new superintendents in March. Both job positions are being advertised now.
New superintendents will play a key role in shaping education initiatives and programs, and the school experience for thousands of children.
Cassia County’s Gaylen Smyer has been an educator since 1979 and superintendent since 2007. He leads south-central Idaho’s second largest school district, with about 5,500 students.
Wendell’s Greg Lowe has been at the helm since 2003, overseeing the approximately 1,200-student district.
The teacher shortage has been a hot topic for several years and that’s expected to continue in 2018.
It’s especially problematic in rural school districts. And south-central Idaho is one of the hardest hit areas in Idaho.
The state’s career ladder law, which took effect in 2015, boosts pay over five years to help attract and retain teachers. And a master educator premium plan will allow experienced kindergarten through 12th grade teachers to apply for a $4,000 yearly stipend, awarded starting the 2020 fiscal year.
But some say it’s still not enough.
The number of teachers hired on an alternate route to certification — meaning those who aren’t licensed and aren’t coming from a traditional university teaching program — is on the rise.
In addition to predictably hard-to-fill positions such as special education and science teachers, school districts struggling to fill even mainstream jobs like elementary school teachers.
It means school districts are forced to be creative, such as encouraging paraprofessionals to go to school to become teachers, starting the hiring process earlier and forming relationships with universities to recruit future teachers.