State’s largest district keeps expanding to serve the community.
The West Ada School District is one of three school districts in Ada County, which includes Meridian and Eagle as well as parts of Boise, Star, Kuna, Garden City and Canyon County. The state’s largest school district has grown significantly over the past decade and shows no signs of slowing down. District officials estimate its student population will grow to 80,000 over the next 40 years.
Officials say that means an additional 11 high schools, 10 middle schools and 33 elementary schools are slated to be built. That’s just keeping pace with the incredible growth experienced in the past two decades. The district has opened 22 schools since the early 2000s, including a new elementary and high school coming to north Meridian in the 2020-2021 school year. The district will need to buy seven more middle school sites, four more high school sites and roughly 23 more elementary sites to reach the goal of 54 additional schools by the year 2060.
A large concentration of growing, learning minds means a district like West Ada can adapt to the changing needs of the modern workforce. One of the district’s more recent projects is the Barbara Morgan STEM Academy (BMSA). This facility opened in 2013 to provide kindergarten through fifth-grade students in the west central region of the West Ada School District an opportunity to participate in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education program.
Named after Barbara Morgan, a former Idaho teacher who went on to work for NASA, BMSA is part of a strategic district plan to expand opportunities for STEM learning throughout the West Ada district. Morgan, now retired from NASA and serving as a professor at Boise State University, continues to serve BMSA as an adviser to the school and has visited the school on numerous occasions.
Significant changes were made in repurposing the school to serve as a STEM Academy. The remodeled building added two labs, and the district hired a new principal and several teachers, including a STEM specialist. The program is popular among local families; BMSA added more than 150 new students in its first two years, and currently has a waiting list for kindergarten through third grade.
BMSA students engage in multidisciplinary studies, layering different skills related to STEM education in the curriculum. In one recent example, third graders worked together to design their own amusement park. Physics, math, even social studies are combined for this school project.
STEM education is not the only specialized pathway for Meridian schoolchildren. Chief Joseph Elementary School specializes in the arts. Staff help students in kindergarten through fifth grade transform into engaged citizens through rigorous academics, in addition to character development.
Chief Joseph requires acceptance through the West Ada School District lottery. Families may apply regardless of home address. Chief Joseph is a Title I school, an English Learners magnet school and a school of choice in the arts. These students can access additional opportunities in visual, musical and dramatic arts.
In 2019, Chief Joseph earned the National Blue Ribbon School designation after accomplishing the designation statewide the year prior. The program recognizes overall performance and how successful schools are in closing achievement gaps between student demographics.
West Ada School District maintains about 4.42 million square feet of building space in 56 facilities. Parents and community members have consistently given West Ada high marks for how well the district’s schools are maintained. However, maintaining schools is also a priority for parents. Maintaining these facilities, renovating existing buildings, and bringing on 10 new schools by 2028 will require significant investments.
Elementary schools cost roughly $16 million to build, new middle schools need about $30 million, and high school buildings can top $60 million in construction costs. Fortunately, Meridian residents value their education system; voters approved a $95 million bond in 2018, enabling the district to continue to grow alongside the community.