Compass Academy History

Compass Academy Sketch

Compass Academy is housed on the former Clair E. Gale campus, along with some of the district’s professional-technical programs. The school underwent extensive renovations beginning in June 2012 and continuing through fall 2013.

The work was broken into three phases:

Phase 1: Summer 2012: Prepare classrooms for the opening of Compass Academy

Phase 2: Summer 2012 to Fall 2013: Upgrade HVAC system and remodel classrooms and commons areas

Phase 3: Summer 2013: Remodel the last of the classrooms

During Phase 1& 2, students and staff only had access to part of the building The entire project was completed in fall 2013

Compass Academy, Idaho Falls School District 91’s magnet high school, opened September 4, 2012. The school is part of the New Tech Network, a non-profit organization that is re-imagining teaching and learning in schools across the country.

The school focuses on project-based learning in an environment that promotes trust, respect, and responsibility. In addition, there will be an emphasis on teaching the 21st Century skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity, which students need to compete in the world today. 

Why Compass Academy?

Reform, changes, legislation and new expectations in education have caused school districts across the country to reevaluate and adjust to the challenges that have been set forth by government, society and our global community.

Compass Academy will prepare students for their future by providing a school with:

  • A culture that empowers students

  • Instruction that engages students

  • Technology that enables students

  • Outcomes that matter to students

Idaho Falls School District partnered with the New Technology Network to implement a school that had the necessary components to help students graduate with the skills they need to succeed in college and the world of work.  The hallmarks of a New Tech school include:

  • Teaching that Engages - Through project-based learning, teachers become curriculum designers and students learn to be collaborative problem solvers.

  • Outcomes that Matter - New Tech Network learning outcomes also measure collaboration, written and oral communication and the development of student responsibility for their own learning and agency.

  • Culture that Empowers - By making learning relevant and creating a collaborative learning culture, students become connected to, engaged with, and challenged by their school, their teachers and their peers.

  • Technology that Enables - Through a technology-rich environment, teachers and students create, communicate, access information, and experience self-directed learning.



Realigned the junior high boundaries so Eagle Rock fed Skyline High School and Taylorview fed Idaho Falls High School. Repurposed Clair E. Gale Junior High School, and opened it in the fall of 2012 as a magnet high school with a project-based instructional focus

The district’s overall goal was to use the magnet high school as a catalyst for change in the district that will create a culture that empowers; provide instruction that engages and integrate technology so that it enables students, and helps them become college and career ready.



Why open a magnet high school?

In today’s world, it’s critical that we give students every opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed in our ever-changing world. A magnet high school with a project-based instructional focus such as Compass Academy helps students master the 3R’s and 4C's. In fact, in New Tech schools, students are graded on their mastery of the content as well as the 21st Century skills such as communication, collaboration, agency, and critical thinking.  The school also provides students in Idaho Falls School District 91 with more choice. The board believes this model through the New Tech Network can be a catalyst for change throughout our district.

What is a project-based instructional focus?

Project-based instruction allows students to learn key concepts by solving problems. Learning is often more relevant to students because they’re applying what they’re learning to real-world problems. Students often communicate and collaborate on the work using innovation and critical thinking.

In this kind of instruction, subjects are often integrated so they are learning English while they’re studying Social Studies. For example, students may write a letter to their congressman about the infringement of a particular right they’ve studied in the U.S. Constitution.

What is New Tech?

The New Tech Network is a national non-profit organization that works with school districts across the country to open innovative high schools. The hallmarks of a New Tech model are project-based instruction and a culture that promotes trust, respect, and responsibility. In addition, technology is integrated into every class. Students have access to a computer and other collaborative learning technologies all day that allow them to be self-directed learners. 

How many schools are in the New Tech Network?

In 2011, there were about 85 schools in the New Tech Network, from Delaware to Texas and Indiana to Hawaii. The first school was founded in 1996 in Napa, California. Still in existence today, 98% of students who attend New Technology High School in Napa graduate and 95% of students enroll in postsecondary education, according to information from New Technology High School Napa. There are now over 200 New Tech schools.

What process did the board use to select New Tech?

The board spent a great deal of time trying to determine the best way to make changes in our schools that would prepare our students for 21st Century challenges, as well as meet state and federal mandates.  The board looked at some programs such as High Tech High and other curriculums. Board members decided to pursue New Tech because it provided a comprehensive service and had a proven track record. It also appeared to have the greatest potential for being a catalyst that could result in positive changes throughout the system. The New Tech Network provides a framework for a project-based curriculum, a new culture that empowers a different kind of learning, technology that is integrated into everyday classwork and a learning management system. The model has been replicated successfully in school districts throughout the country. New Tech also offers a support network that assists with technology, professional development and lessons learned.

Are these schools technical schools or professional technical schools?

Neither. The name New Tech refers to new ways technology is used to enable students to become self- directed learners.

Do New Tech schools have a focus on math and science?

No. Some schools in the New Tech Network have a STEM focus, which means they specialize in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, but other schools have a fine arts focus, a language arts focus or no specific focus. 

Is there a cost to join the New Tech Network?

It cost the district approximately $500,000 for a 5-year contract with the New Tech Network, which amounted to about $100,000 a year. The contract included training for the new school’s director and staff; professional development and conferences during the four years of implementation; ongoing webinars designed to meet the specific needs of New Tech schools; opportunity for staff to be certified as New Tech Network Exemplary Teachers and New Tech Network Trainers; access to NTN Echo, a learning management system; and onsite and remote coaching services during the four years of implementation.

Why spend money joining the network? Why doesn’t the district just create its own school using project-based instruction?

New Tech has a proven track record with proven results. It’s more than a program, it’s a whole new way of teaching and learning, along with the student management system and projects that ensure students master the 3R’s and the 4C’s.

What about other costs?

There are other expenses besides the cost of joining the New Tech Network, but those costs are harder to break down. Many of the things included in the projections are things the district would need to do whether the board moved forward with New Tech or not.

For example, when Clair E. Gale was converted into a magnet school, most classrooms were renovated and the heating and ventilation system was updated.  There are extensive technology costs and we are currently on our second set of 1-1 student computers.  

Where will the money come from?

The money to pay for the New Tech contract came from the district’s reserve fund, or savings account, and was set aside with this project in mind.  Any renovations were paid for using money from the district’s special plant facilities fund. That money was specifically earmarked each year for major construction projects.

When did the school open?

The New Tech magnet school opened in Idaho Falls in the fall of 2012.

How are students picked for the New Tech high school?

Most New Tech schools require students to apply, but it is a simple application. Students provide their names, addresses and other basic information, but they don’t have to meet any academic requirements or have a specific GPA to attend the school. If there are more applications than spots, a lottery is held.

Who should apply for the New Tech school?

The research shows this learning model works for all students. Typically, the demographics of New Tech schools mirror the demographics of the school district.  So, in our district, 47% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and we would expect that 47% of the students at New Tech would qualify for free and reduced lunch.

What happens if students don’t apply to attend New Tech?

We don’t expect this to be a problem. We have already heard from many parents who are interested in the model, and most New Tech schools across the country have a waiting list. But, if we don’t get the necessary number of students, we’ll do more recruiting, and if that doesn’t work, the board may have to reconsider the New Tech model.

Where would the New Tech school be located?

Clair E. Gale was re-purposed to accommodate Compass Academy, some career-technical programs, and more.

Why re-purpose Gale and not another school in the district?

Because of the district’s changing demographics, Clair E. Gale reached a student population of fewer than 600 students as opposed to district’s other junior high schools, which had more than 800 students. At least three elementary schools in District 91 had more students than Gale. Whether the district created a magnet high school or not, it would need to make some changes at Clair E. Gale to ensure students have the same opportunities for electives and other programs as students who attended the district’s other junior high schools.

Will students at New Tech High School be able to take part in extracurricular activities such as athletics, music and other things?

Extracurricular activities are an important part of every child’s education, and the district makes every effort to provide these opportunities to New Tech students. However, they may not have access to as many extracurricular activities as they would at a traditional high school or they may need to return to their home high school – the high school they are zoned to attend – to take part in those activities. For example, the New Tech School wouldn’t have its own sports program so students would play sports for the high school they are zoned to attend – either Skyline or Idaho Falls High School.

Will New Tech properly prepare students for college?

New Tech schools pride themselves on preparing students for college and careers, and they appear to be doing that based on the experiences of schools throughout the network.  The curriculum at New Tech schools is rigorous. In addition, students at New Tech schools are generally required to take college-level classes and do internships their senior year and perform community service throughout high school.  Based on information from the 2009-10 school year, the one-year graduation rate across New Tech sites nationwide was 95%; the four-year cohort graduation rate was 80%, compared to 69% nationally. In addition, 71% of New Tech graduates enrolled in college.

What kind of training did the staff receive?

The contract with the New Tech Network included an in-depth professional development program that included a week of leadership training for the new principal/director; two days of job shadowing for teachers in the spring; a week of intensive training for the director and faculty in June, as well as ongoing coaching throughout the school year. As the school’s enrollment grows, the faculty who are added over time will receive similar training.


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