A visit to Ruch K-8 Community School tells you immediately that this is a small school with a lot going on.

A visit to Ruch K-8 Community School tells you immediately that this is a small school with a lot going on.

A student-built, sound-activated robot zips along an outdoor walkway. Laughter floats out of an adjacent classroom, where an art and calligraphy class is meeting.

In another classroom, seventh- and eighth-graders contemplate memoir-writing. A group of fourth- and fifth-graders is just returning from a visit to a local watershed.

A few boys from the basketball team walk by, enthusiastically reliving a recent big win. And in the library, sitting at a kid-sized round table, a group of parents and community members from APPLE (Applegate Partners Promoting Local Education) confers with principal Julie Hill about plans to develop place-based learning and strengthen the community-school focus at Ruch K-8 School. The conversation is animated, excited.

This excitement comes after more than seven months of learning, planning and hard work on the part of APPLE, a group that believes students should be able to attend school in the community and environment in which they live — and that this rural school is a 'hub' of the community.

Last year, with the knowledge of the enormous budget shortfall facing the Medford School District, APPLE set to work developing an economically viable model for Ruch School, which has fewer than 200 students but serves nearly three quarters of the geographic area of the Medford School District. Our goal was to ensure that this rural school remains a vibrant part of the district, while developing an educational model tightly tied to the community and the natural environment in which students live.

At the Nov. 5 meeting of the Medford School Board, Superintendent Phil Long publicly endorsed APPLE's proposal to develop a place-based, community-school model for Ruch K-8 — a model we believe will attract new students to the school and enhance students' learning experiences by strengthening ties among the district's core curriculum, the local environment (including watershed, farmland and forests), and the community.

In addition, Dr. Long announced his support for a more flexible process of inter- and intra-district transfers into Ruch School. This policy would allow Ruch to increase enrollment by automatically accepting transfer requests from K-6 home-schooled, private-schooled or charter-schooled students in the district. It would also make it easier for students to transfer between the neighboring Three Rivers School District and Ruch School. (For more information on this policy, see the Medford School District 549C website: www.medford.k12.or.us/News.asp?NewsID=1649.

When the school board endorsed both aspects of this plan, APPLE members were delighted. Of course, we know that all Medford 549C schools face continuing financial challenges, and like all Medford schools, Ruch will continue to be affected by tough decisions the district faces. But the School Board's public endorsement of these two issues is a significant factor in the school's ability to be proactive, to ensure that Ruch K-8 remains a vital part of both our local community and our school district.

So in addition to our appreciation of the board's support, we recognize and applaud the efforts of Long and the board members to collaborate with us on this solution.

Over the past seven months Long, members of the school board and various administrators visited Ruch School, attended APPLE meetings and met with members of APPLE as we worked toward a solution that would meet the needs of both the community and the district. In short, board members and APPLE members listened to each other and worked together with the interests of our students, our communities, and our school district in mind.

One of the Medford School Board's four stated goals for 2012-13 and beyond is to "increase communication and involvement within our district and with our community." The Board's recent engagement with APPLE, on behalf of Ruch K-8 Community School, is a commendable example of putting this goal into practice.

The new developments taking shape at Ruch School are exciting; so is the collaboration between the community and the board. As the district struggles with a budget shortfall that affects all of its students and families, we need — and hope to see — more of this kind of creative collaboration.

Margaret Perrow della Santina of the Applegate Valley, a member of APPLE and a Ruch School parent, is an assistant professor of English at Southern Oregon University.