Kids Unlimited Monday night was given the go-ahead by the Medford School Board to begin preparing to operate what will likely become the school district's third charter school.
The School Board approved a revised proposal for the VIBES Public Charter School: Academy of the Arts and Sciences with a 4-2 vote; board member Tricia Prendergast abstained.
According to the approved proposal, the charter school will host 150 first- through third-graders who will start the 2013-14 school year at an expanded Kids Unlimited facility at 821 N. Riverside Ave.
That approval, however, is contingent on the Kids Unlimited board proving to the school district that it's providing a secure and safe environment for the students.
"We're going to make it happen," said Tom Cole, Kids Unlimited founder and director, following Monday night's decision. "The next step is sitting back down with the school district and reflecting about the next steps, so that we are all on the same page."
If the Kids Unlimited board satisfies the school district's requirements before an Aug. 4 deadline, the charter school's doors could open Sept. 4 along with other district schools. Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long will enter into charter negotiations with Kids Unlimited during that span.
Board member Kim Wallan expressed some skepticism over whether Kids Unlimited's location is "school friendly," but voted to allow the charter school. If the proposal was not approved, she said, the school district could be losing out on an opportunity to oversee the charter school because it might be approved outside of the scope of the school district in the future.
"If someone can do it better than we are, I want to learn from that and implement what we can from what success someone else is having," Wallan said.
Before voting yes, board member Jeff Thomas said: "For me it's a leap of faith."
"If this doesn't work the way its structured, that's OK; then we need to structure it another way," he said.
Board members Ron Anderson and Sally Killen voted against creating the charter school.
"I am not convinced that this is a good thing for the district or the majority of our young people. There is no question that the Kids Unlimited programs have been very helpful for our community up to this point," Anderson said. "What I see in this proposal is a duplication at best of some of the things we are doing extremely well at Jackson (Elementary)."
Anderson questioned whether Kids Unlimited's facility was suitable for 150 students, and whether with that many students opening the school will end up costing the school district at least $800,000 in lost students and Title 1 federal funding.
"It diverts resources away from the district," Anderson said
Cole said he hopes the school can grow above 150 students with time, but plans to hire six certified teachers initially to oversee six classes of 25 students. The school also will hire support staffers, he said, but he is uncertain how many.
According to the proposal, VIBES Sciences will offer an extended day for students from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with three meals each day. The school also will utilize community partnerships to work with families of high-risk students.
VIBES is an acronym for "Vitality in Becoming Educated Socially," a long-standing mission of Kids Unlimited, an after-school program that began with a $500 grant 15 years ago.
The organization is now the largest youth-serving organization in the area, providing tutoring at five district schools as well as elementary- and middle-school summer camps and community programs.
In 2005, Kids Unlimited opened its current facility in a converted bowling alley.
Shortly before Monday night's meeting Cole said he felt optimistic that the board would approve the charter school.
"I knew it wouldn't be an easy decision , but I felt a sense of confidence," he said. "I'm glad we can take steps for further advocacy for children that are struggling in our community. We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't already dealing with serious achievement gaps."
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org