Forming Future Citizens: An Educator’s Post-Military Quest Article

Forming Future Citizens: An Educator’s Post-Military Quest

“This is not just about a curriculum, this is about forming good human beings,” said Steve Lambert, Founder and Executive Director of Treasure Valley Classical Academy (TVCA) in Fruitland, Idaho.

The son of European immigrants and a retired active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force, Steve knows a thing or two about citizenship, perseverance, courage, and honesty, which are just a few of the virtues his school is built upon.

After retiring from the military at the rank of Colonel and 24 years of service under his belt, Steve knew he wanted to continue upholding his oath to defend and uphold the Constitution, and chose education as his path to do so. His transition to civilian life brought him to Atlanta Classical Academy in Georgia, where he spent three years as Assistant Principal and one year as Principal. While he loved his job, he felt a calling to move and build a life – and a school – out west.

Steve and his wife, Laura, landed in Idaho after Steve received a fellowship opportunity through Bluum, a Boise-based nonprofit that empowers and invests in innovative educational leaders.

Launched in 2016, The Idaho New School Fellowship grants one- and two-year fellowships to educators from across the country in an effort to create more innovative, high performing Idaho public charter schools that prepare a diverse group of students to thrive in a rapidly-changing world. To date, nearly $3 million has been invested in 23 New School Fellows, and collectively they have opened or will open thirteen schools across the Gem State.

“Idaho stole our hearts – both for the people as well as the geography,” said Steve. “It was an honor to be selected to create a new charter school here.”

Bluum, with the support of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, not only provides funding for the fellowship, but strategic and financial planning support to help ensure the schools get off the ground successfully.

“Starting a school from the ground up is no easy feat,” said Bluum CEO, Terry Ryan. “These Fellows need heart, tenacity, and experience to help them navigate the challenges of opening a new charter school in a rural state like Idaho. Considering his military background and past work in Atlanta, Steve was an easy choice for us.”

An unfamiliar face in a tight-knit Idaho town, Steve went straight to work, rallying community support in Fruitland and the surrounding cities, working tirelessly to bring his dream school to life. This included refurbishing a historic brick building in the heart of town to serve as the school’s main campus, hiring high caliber teachers, developing the school’s curriculum and standards, and even coordinating lunch and bus schedules.

Opened in August of 2019, Treasure Valley Classical Academy is modeled after the version Steve once ran in Atlanta. A free public charter school open to grades K-12, its mission is to train the minds and improve the hearts of students through a classical, content-rich curriculum that emphasizes virtuous living, traditional learning, and civic responsibility. TVCA is also a certified Hillsdale College K-12 member school, and the only school of its kind in Idaho. 

But is TVCA innovative? According to Steve, no.

“Our main innovation is not an innovation at all. We copy the best ideas, read the great books, and study the best thinkers of all time. In other words, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we study them. This is the education that our founders received, updated for modern times. That is the essence of a true liberal arts and sciences education.”

With courses like Spanish, Latin, Visual Arts, Music, Singapore Math, Classical Literature, American History, and Moral Philosophy, plus extra-curricular clubs like Airplane & Rocketry, Speech and Debate, Wilderness Pursuits, and Robotics, TVCA sets students up for success by providing them with a broad worldview where they learn to be strong in both mind and character.

“The classical model appeals to the whole person. It’s not just about getting knowledge into students’ brains so they can do well on a test. It’s about forming them into good citizens of the world who are kind, respectful, honest, and who help others. And this takes time and effort,” said Steve.

Steve remembers a troubled student who came to TVCA just after the school opened. He was physically and verbally violent, frustrated, and depressed, and had been kicked out of his previous school multiple times, often with police enforcement.

With both firmness and love, Steve and his staff poured themselves into this student.

“We set high expectations and worked on teaching him our school’s virtues in order to achieve those expectations. Courage – be brave; Courtesy – be kind and respectful; Honesty – always tell the truth; Perseverance – never give up; Self-government – practice self-control; and Service – help others.”

During his first year at TVCA, this student needed a dedicated aide and could not be left alone with other students without supervision. Fast forward several years later, and this student is respectful, motivated, and no longer needs the support of an aide.

“One day last semester, I spotted this student sitting by himself in the cafeteria with his head down. I sat next to him and asked what was bothering him. He said he grew frustrated during a math lesson and acted out, but realized he had to use perseverance to get through it. He said he felt bad about his behavior and was planning to find his math teacher and apologize, then make up the work. He would have never handled himself this way in the beginning. He would have never referred to perseverance, or recognized the need to apologize to another human being. I’m immensely proud of the progress he has made.”

Though Steve may disagree, his leadership approach is innovative in today’s educational landscape, and exemplifies Bluum’s mission of supporting school leaders who take risks and put children first. And his hard work has paid off. Recently, TVCA was ranked fifth in the state for Student Engagement by the Idaho Dept. of Education. Additionally, his school has a 97% retention rate and his students regularly outperform state averages in math and English.

“What Steve has accomplished at TVCA is remarkable, and exactly the kind of success we hoped to see when we helped develop the New School Fellowship program,” said Roger Quarles, Executive Director at the Foundation. “Steve has also proven that the possibilities are endless when it comes to building a new civilian life and career right here in Idaho.”

“Even though I no longer serve on active duty, I took an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution. And though I’m no longer flying military planes or leading others into combat, I have the honor of raising up the next generation of American citizens who will defend the Constitution by understanding our country’s founding ideals and philosophies,” Steve said.

Steve recently formed a governing organization called American Classical Schools of Idaho, which helps guide the forming of new classical schools, similar to TVCA. Idaho Novus Classical Academy will open in Eagle in 2024 and North Idaho Classical Academy will open in Coeur d’Alene in 2025.

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