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  • VIBES to add full-day kindergarten

    Medford School Board also decides to allow fourth-grade classes
  • The Medford School Board gave VIBES Public Charter School the OK Monday to offer full-day kindergarten to 50 students starting this fall.
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  • The Medford School Board gave VIBES Public Charter School the OK Monday to offer full-day kindergarten to 50 students starting this fall.
    Board members voted 4-1 in favor of amending the school's charter to include a kindergarten program. Board members Ron Andersen and Tricia Prendergast were not present.
    VIBES, like other charter schools in the area, has its own budget and school board but operates under the umbrella of the Medford School District and, therefore, is accountable to its school board.
    VIBES opened its doors last fall to 150 first- through third-grade students, offering an extended day — 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — with three meals and a variety of enrichment activities. Kids Unlimited, a free after-school and mentoring program for low-income children in Medford, acts as a parent organization and host to the school at 821 N. Riverside Ave.
    Board member Sally Killen expressed skepticism about the school's accounting practices, its "weak budget" and its close relationship with Kids Unlimited.
    "There is no data to prove they can be an effective education service yet, and I don't feel like experimenting with our kids," she said.
    Board members Marlene Yesquen, Kim Wallan and Larry Nicholson also expressed some reservations about expanding a school that is still in its infancy, but all three voted "yes" with the expectation that the school would produce the data to support its programs.
    "I have the same concerns (as Killen), but I would rather give them a chance to prove themselves," said Wallan.
    Killen voted "a big fat no."
    At the meeting, the board also voted to expand the school to include fourth grade. Julie Evans, who oversees the district's three charter schools, said VIBES' charter includes provisions that allow it to grow by one grade each year until it reaches a K-8 structure. However, the board must approve this change every year.
    Tom Cole, executive director of Kids Unlimited, and VIBES Principal Stephanie Johnson were present at Monday's meeting to hear the board's recommendation. Cole said it was reassuring that the board recognized the school's efforts and had faith that it would produce results.
    "But it was disappointing that the leadership that was opposed has never taken the tour or had the time to find the facts," he said.
    Although they work closely together, Kids Unlimited and VIBES have separate boards that share only two members, he added.
    "We all understand how sensitive this is, and our leadership has been diligent about setting the proper systems, balances and controls associated with the operation of a public school and a public nonprofit," Cole said. "But for us the most important force is efficiency, so that the most amount of money goes back to the students and into having smaller classrooms and more staff working with kids."
    In June, VIBES will begin work transforming its 13,000-square-foot performance area into seven classrooms, three offices and a commons area for small parent-teacher and student gatherings. The school also will add an additional two classrooms near the entry of the school that will be devoted to early childhood (ages birth to 4) programs, offered by the Family Nurturing Center.
    So far, the school has raised or been pledged $265,000 for the expansion project, which will cost about $500,000, Cole said.
    "We are confident that the folks who have stood by us in this pursuit will continue to stand by us as we expand," he said.
    The school also will need to raise an additional $145,000 to cover the operational costs of adding fourth-grade and kindergarten classrooms and collaborating with OnTrack and the Family Nurturing Center, as both organizations will provide support services to the charter school's students and their families.
    VIBES will begin marketing its kindergarten program immediately.
    "Parents have been anxiously calling in and filling out applications in the hopes that this went through tonight as it did," Johnson said.
    Anyone can apply. However, siblings of current students will be given priority. A lottery will determine who gets the remaining spots in the program.
    Trinidad McConkey has been "begging" VIBES administrators and teachers for a kindergarten program since her second-grade son, Xavier, began attending the school last fall.
    "I always say, 'My son goes to the best school ever,' " she said. "The diversity here is amazing and not just the diversity of the student body but also the diversity of the activities."
    McConkey said Xavier, who previously attended Jewett and Howard elementary schools, has made "huge" advancements academically and socially in the last year, and she wants to enroll her 5-year-old daughter, Dazzelyn, in the school's kindergarten program, which begins Aug. 25.
    "Statistics show that 70 percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced lunch," Johnson said. "It's absolutely necessary that we start kids as early as possible for their education and social development. Many of these kids haven't had a preschool experience, let alone a full-day kindergarten, and we will do our very best to make that experience exceptional."
    Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.
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