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Charter school officials discuss plan to move into mall

January 15, 2019

CHUBBUCK -- School administrators with Gem Prep: Pocatello have the luxury of thinking big as they plan for the future, now that they’re poised to move into the nearly 2-acre former Sears location in Pine Ridge Mall.

The charter school currently leases a building with no cafeteria or gymnasium, located behind O.K. Ward Park, using modular buildings for supplemental space. But the school will begin the 2019-2020 school year in capacious new digs, within the 78,000-square-foot former department store they’ll be leasing to buy.

For the first school year in the roomy, new environment, Gem Prep: Pocatello plans to boost its current enrollment of nearly 200 students by 140 seats. Furthermore, school officials believe they’ll fill a needed niche next fall by implementing all-day kindergarten, offered every weekday. Kindergartners currently meet every weekday from 8 a.m. until noon.

“The 78,000 square feet will accommodate so many more students,” Principal Gerald Love said.

The school opened in 2014 offering kindergarten and first-grade instruction. The school has grown to now offer a single class each for kindergarten through sixth grade.

Next fall, the school will add second classrooms for kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade. School officials plan to gradually expand until they’re offering two classrooms per grade for kindergarten through 12th grade.

A lottery to determine which students are accepted is currently underway and ends Feb. 7. Families may register online at gemprep.org/pocatello.

“I anticipate there will be some classrooms that are full and have wait lists, but I also anticipate that possibly some of the younger grades will be able to get as many people in as who want (to attend),” said Shay Angelo, the school’s director of development.

Gem Prep: Pocatello is affiliated with three other Idaho charter schools -- Gem Prep: Meridian, Gem Prep: Nampa and Gem Prep: Online, which offers students who study from home remote access to teachers and curriculum.

The school’s approach to teaching is called blended learning. Angelo explained the philosophy entails allowing students to progress at their own pace to be “college-prep ready.” Instruction is offered both face-to-face with teachers and through adaptable online programs that enable students to progress to new material as they master concepts.

“Our kids tend to perform very well,” Love said.

The school’s loan is being offered through Building Hope, an organization that provides low-interest funding to help Charter Schools move into their own facilities.

Love believes the mall’s centralized location, it’s ease of access, its ample parking and its proximity to shopping will be convenient for families. The charter school utilizes public transportation through Pocatello Regional Transit for busing, which is another key reason why the mall’s central location will be a benefit.

The school has been saving to buy its own building since it first opened, Angelo said. She said the school evaluated seven potential options before deciding on its new location, and the mall proved to be the most economical choice. Cost estimates for the project were not available.

Gem Prep: Pocatello commenced with construction on its future location more than a month ago. Work will be done in phases, with the first phase encompassing 53,000 square feet and planned for completion prior to this fall.

“It will be large enough for us to house K through 12 immediately,” Love said, adding the school is still mulling ideas and a timeline for its second phase.

The school will house two classrooms per grade, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, meeting and study rooms, offices and a library with a technology laboratory. Love explained students will have the opportunity to create and innovate using technology such as a 3D printer and a green screen. Additionally, the campus will house a regional resource center for families enrolled in Gem Prep: Online.

Windows will be added to provide natural lighting, and a 3.2-acre area of the parking lot will be converted into green space and a playground.

“We did some parent focus groups when we were looking into into moving into the mall,” Angelo said. “Parents are so excited. We are so excited. The kids now understand, and they’re excited, too.”

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