The Medford School Board meeting room overflowed Monday night with supporters of Kids Unlimited's proposed charter school, VIBES.
The board held a public hearing so local residents could voice opinions about VIBES, a K-5 school that Kids Unlimited hopes to open in Medford next fall and eventually expand to K-8.
"It makes sense to partner with the organization that best serves kids in poverty in our community," said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County. "They have an amazing track record with the kids and families they serve."
School board members have shared concerns with VIBES developers that the school could deplete resources from the Medford School District and that Kids Unlimited doesn't have adequate space to house the 300 students it hopes to eventually attract to the school.
Barbara Low, a teacher at Wilson Elementary, said the school might attract the low-income students who bring Title 1 federal funding to the district.
She said the school likely would draw many students from Wilson, Jackson and Howard elementary schools, all of which receive Title 1 funding. "Next year, we are already facing a cut to our federal funding," said Low.
Kids Unlimited Director Tom Cole said he hoped the board would look past budget numbers to consider the benefits to children if VIBES were opened.
"This charter school, I hope can be looked at as not about money," said Cole. "We have to be responsible enough to look past the dollar amounts."
Cole said the charter school would send eighth grade students back into Medford high schools performing at grade level and ready to graduate.
"Our graduation rate can change," said Cole.
Former South Medford High School teacher Victoria Snow Mountain said that if the school opens, she will enroll her four grandchildren.
"This is very badly needed in our community," said Snow Mountain. "I personally believe (Cole) and his program have saved lives."
Started as an after-school program at Oak Grove Elementary 15 years ago, Kids Unlimited has grown to six sites and operates with an annual budget of more than $1.5 million.
Rocio Mendoza, one of the first students to attend a Kids Unlimited after-school program, said Monday that she was grateful to be a part of Kids Unlimited's journey.
"It's such a blessing to be a part of this," said Mendoza, who graduated from South Medford and went on to earn a nursing degree from Oregon Health & Science University.
The VIBES school would offer an extended day for students from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with three meals each day, and would utilize community partnerships to work with families of high-risk students.
If opened in the fall, the school would start with a target enrollment of 300 students in grades K-5. It would expand by one grade each year until it reached K-8.
School organizers said they could reconfigure the Kids Unlimited building, at 821 N. Riverside Ave., to house the school next year, and they are confident they could secure adjacent buildings to house the program as it expands.
A team from Kids Unlimited has worked for three years on its application for a charter school in Medford. The Medford School District deemed the application complete last month.
The Medford School Board is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the school and allow the superintendent to move forward with charter negotiations at its April 15 meeting.
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or email@example.com.