In fall 2012, Idaho Falls School District 91 opened Compass Academy, a magnet high school offering project-based instruction and a technology rich environment. While the instructional model is different, students must still meet the same state and national standards, and the same graduation requirements as other high school students in the district. The school opened its doors with freshmen and sophomores, but another class is being added each year so that by the 2014-2015 school year, Compass Academy will be a four-year high school.


What is Compass Academy?

Compass Academy is Idaho Falls School District 91’s new magnet high school, which will serve students in grades 9-11 in the 2013-2014 school year.

What is a magnet school?

Students at magnet schools must meet the same state standards and graduation requirements as students attending traditional high schools. The methods teachers use to provide that instruction is often what differentiates magnet schools from traditional schools. In addition, magnet schools don’t have established boundaries so any eligible student in the district can attend the school regardless of where they live in the city.

What makes Compass Academy different?

The school is part of the New Tech Network, which is a national non-profit organization that is reimagining teaching and learning across the country. There currently are more than 120 schools in the network nationwide.
At Compass Academy, teachers teach and students learn using project-based instruction or PBL. Students learn the required material by solving complex questions or problems. This process requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and various forms of communication. Students often work in groups and must listen to others, express their ideas, read a variety of material and use higher-order thinking skills to learn what they need to know in order to answer the question or solve the problem.
Compass Academy provides students with a technology rich environment. Students have laptops they use to conduct research, prepare projects, submit homework and check assignments. Students use their laptops a lot, but do not work on their computers all day. Students are expected to actively participate in class and collaborate with other students.
Students learn in an environment that promotes trust, respect and responsibility.

What is project-based instruction?

Project-based instruction has been shown to provide students with a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards they are studying because students learn by completing projects or solving specific problems. Students also develop the skill to apply what they have learned to real-world problems. Learn more about project-based learning from the Buck Institute for Education, which promotes project-based instruction across the country and develops resources and professional development programs for teachers. http://www.bie.org/

Is the school accredited?

Yes. Compass Academy, like all secondary schools in Idaho Falls School District 91, meets the requirements necessary for accreditation.
In addition, the New Tech Network tracks Compass Academy’s progress. So far, the school has received high marks for its progress and implementation of a proven model.

How do teachers know students are learning what they need to know?

Teachers design projects around the required core concepts and state standards, and then use various assessments to ensure students are learning the material as they complete the project. If it is clear students are not learning the material, teachers will hold “workshops” to address specific concepts or answer questions.

How are students graded?

While students do a lot of work in groups, students still are graded on their individual efforts. Besides being graded on their knowledge of the content, students also are graded on 21st Century skills such as communication, resource application, thinking processes, etc. 

Is Compass Academy a good choice for students planning to attend college?

Yes. Students have the opportunity to take AP and other advanced classes at Compass Academy. In addition, students gain the skills they need to be successful in college.
Compass Academy is in its first year so we do not have any student data, but research shows New Tech schools across the country are creating learning environments that produce great results.
In general, students score the same or better on state and national standardized tests as their counterparts in traditional high schools.
Sixty-seven percent of students graduating from New Tech Schools in 2010-2011 applied to college, which is much better than Idaho’s average. Of the New Tech students who applied to college, 98 percent were accepted. Of those who entered college in 2009, 91 percent have remained in college, which again is much higher than Idaho’s “Go On” rate.

Is Compass Academy an alternative school for struggling students?

No. Idaho Falls School District’s alternative high school is Emerson High School.

Is Compass Academy a technical, vocational or trades school?

No. At a technical, vocational or trades school, students learn the skills required for a particular job such as welding or auto mechanics or a certified nursing assistant. At Compass Academy, students study the core subjects of English, Math, Science and Social Studies, and have the opportunity to take a wide variety of electives, including AP classes.

The goal is for students to learn how to apply what they are studying in the classroom to real-world situations. There is also an emphasis on students developing the 21st Century skills of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking that they need to succeed in college and the workplace.

Some professional-technical classes are held at all the district’s high schools, including Compass Academy, and more PTE classes will be added to Compass when the renovations to the building are complete. Compass students, as well as students from the other high schools, will be able to enroll in those classes.

Is Compass Academy best for students who love computers?

Technology is deeply integrated into what students do everyday at Compass Academy, but computers are not the school’s primary focus. Students have laptops and use them to conduct research, create presentations and submit homework, but they are simply a tool to help students take charge of their learning and develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need to be successful in college and their chosen career.

What classes are available at Compass Academy?

All the required core classes are offered. Students also have the opportunity to take AP classes such as AP European History, AP Geography, AP Biology and AP Chemistry. A wide range of electives also is offered including business, debate, yearbook, web design, art, choir, band, drama, debate, Spanish and release time. In addition, there are electives in some of the core content areas such as Galactic Science, Sports Science, Food Chemistry and Law and Order.

What are integrated classes?

Many of Compass’ core classes are integrated so students have an extended class period and learn two subjects at the same time. This kind of instruction is effective because it provides students with more opportunities to apply what they are learning in the classroom. For example:
Sophomores take Biology/Health, which are two subjects that naturally overlap.
Juniors take American Studies, which combines U.S History and Junior English allows students to read literature from the historical period they are studying.

Why don’t students use textbooks?

Students learn by completing projects that are tied to core concepts and state standards. Instead of completing readings or worksheets traditionally found in textbooks, students use other resources such as material provided by teachers, individual research or original sources.

This shift from textbooks to other classroom resources will occur across the district as the state implements the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core State Standards were developed by a coalition of states in response to demands from business leaders that students develop more 21st Century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication.

Does Compass Academy have any student clubs or organizations?

Yes. This year the school created a student government association, which is working to provide activities for students on campus. There is also a growing list of student clubs serving students’ special interests.

Does Compass Academy have athletics or any extracurricular opportunities?

Because Compass Academy is a magnet school, the Idaho High School Activities Association requires students to compete in athletics and other extracurricular activities through the high school they’re zoned to attend. Several athletes, and other competitors, from both Skyline and Idaho Falls high schools attend Compass Academy.

How much is the district spending to renovate the Clair E. Gale building?

The district is spending about $4.6 million to renovate the Clair E. Gale building and convert it into Compass Academy. The bulk of that money is being spent to upgrade the building’s heating and ventilation system, which needed to be done no matter how the building was used.

The upgrades to the Clair E. Gale building are being paid for using bond money. Patrons approved a $53 million bond in spring 2012 to make building improvements, including upgrades to the Clair E. Gale building and Idaho Falls and Skyline high schools and the construction of four new elementary schools to replace the aging Dora Erickson, Ethel Boyes, Longfellow and Edgemont elementary schools.