- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

HARRISON, Idaho (AP) - A small public high school at the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene is among the best performers in the SAT college entrance exams in Idaho this year.

Nestled in the rolling hills south of Harrison, Kootenai High School is proving it can hold its own among the strongest academic environments in the state, despite enrollment declines and limited resources.

The Spokesman-Review (https://bit.ly/1CbPyaH) reported Tuesday that of the Idaho schools that had 10 or more juniors tackle the SAT in mid-April, Kootenai had the largest year-over-year improvement. The average score of 1,526 was up 191 points over 2013.

“That just blew me out of the water,” Principal Tim Schultz said.

The SAT has three components, reading, math and writing, with a combined possible score of 2,400. Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, a perennial high achiever, ranked first in the state with an average score of 1,818. But Kootenai, whose score was 163 points above the state average, was 10th highest in Idaho and fourth highest among non-charter schools.

“I like to see general public schools on that list with the charter schools,” Schultz said. “We can turn out a heck of a product. Our kids are good.”

The results are especially remarkable in that the Kootenai School District has seen plunging enrollment. It had around 380 students in grades K-12 in the early 1990s. Today, just 168 students attend school on the campus, which sits on Coeur d’Alene Reservation land surrounded by farms and forest. The district has lost six full-time teaching positions in the past five years, and those who remain juggle more responsibilities.

“They’ve done a great job in the face of some real obstacles in helping students perform at a very high level,” Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna said.

“It’s a small school, it has unique demographics. How can we learn from that school and duplicate that great success elsewhere?” Luna said. “Any school, regardless of its size, that would show a 191-point increase in one year deserves praise and recognition.”

The recession forced some families to move away, and many graduates leave to pursue careers in cities, said school counselor Kevin Kincheloe, who also teaches wood shop and welding and is the track and field coach.

Apart from agriculture and timber jobs, there’s little other industry here. The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes hiking and biking path pumps some dollars into the economy, but the tourists only pedal through for part of the year.

“We’ve seen a migration from rural Idaho to urban and suburban far more driven by the economy than anything else,” Luna said. “If the jobs aren’t there then the families are going to leave.”

What has helped sustain the Kootenai district is strong community support. Voters in 2012 approved a $1.2 million-a-year supplemental levy to make up for sharp cuts in state education funding. In 2011, when the schools needed a new sewage treatment lagoon, voters overwhelmingly approved the $2 million price tag.

“Because of our patron support, we’re still here, our doors are open,” said Schultz, who also teaches biology and chemistry.

Senior class portraits dating back nine decades line the walls of the school cafeteria. Back in 1926, just five students posed for the photographer. Over the decades, the same family names pop up again and again.

Now the classes are getting smaller again. This year there are 22 freshmen. The seniors number just 14, the ones who scored so well on the SATs as juniors. Eight of them started here as kindergartners.

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, https://www.spokesman.com

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