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MailTribune.com
  • Small can be beautiful

    Medford school officials face a familiar dilemma over the future of Ruch School
  • The rural community of Ruch is battling long odds in its efforts to keep the doors of Ruch School open. So far, parents and school supporters have succeeded where two other Southern Oregon communities have failed, but the battle isn't over yet.
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  • The rural community of Ruch is battling long odds in its efforts to keep the doors of Ruch School open. So far, parents and school supporters have succeeded where two other Southern Oregon communities have failed, but the battle isn't over yet.
    Their latest proposal is to offer open enrollment in hopes of boosting the number of students. The Medford School Board disappointed Ruch parents last week by postponing action on the open enrollment request, but the board didn't dismiss the idea out of hand.
    The dilemma facing the Medford district over Ruch School's future is not new. Small, rural schools play a special role in the lives of their students and their communities. Because of their size, they offer an educational experience larger schools can't. They often serve as centers of community activity beyond school hours. As a result, the level of parent involvement is often much greater than at larger schools.
    That's especially true when a threatened closure prompts parents to volunteer time, money and skills to maintain facilities, even to teach elective courses. That's happened at Ruch, where the community convinced the School Board to expand the school to include grades seven and eight to boost enrollment, and offered after-school electives to encourage middle-schoolers to attend there rather than at McLoughlin in Medford.
    At the same time, small schools are more expensive to operate. Because class sizes are much smaller, the cost per student is significantly higher than in the rest of the district. That makes small schools obvious targets for closure when districts must cut costs.
    Three other rural school have faced closure in the past few years. Two — Evans Valley Elementary in the Rogue River School District and Elk Trail in the Eagle Point district — were closed over community objections. The third, Sams Valley Elementary, was scheduled to close last year but was given a one-year reprieve when Central Point School District administrators found some money in the budget they had overlooked.
    Ruch School has managed to hang on by going to the K-8 model. Now supporters want to open enrollment to students from outside the district.
    That could mean attracting students from Applegate School, a few miles west of Ruch but part of the Three Rivers district. Applegate also faced potential closure in recent years but is still open, and also serves grades K-8.
    Medford Superintendent Phil Long understandably wants to confer with Three Rivers administrators about the potential effect of opening enrollment at Ruch.
    Ultimately, the answer for the Applegate Valley may be to merge Applegate and Ruch schools, but for now, the School Board must weigh the benefits of preserving a vibrant rural school against the financial necessity of maintaining quality education for the entire district.
    We don't have the perfect solution, and there may not be one. But the Medford School Board should do everything it can to encourage innovative solutions and keep parents and communities involved in their schools.
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