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School district needs to hear from parents

At some point, Medford School District officials will need to stop talking about adding a middle school and shifting sixth-graders out of elementary schools and actually do it. That time is not now, not next year and maybe not even two years from now, depending on how soon decisions are made and when construction might take place.

But for the present, talking is important to keep parents and district patrons informed about where the district is headed.

The district is considering whether to convert Central Medford High School into a third middle school. The building would need remodeling, estimated at $6 million. District officials also have considered building a new middle school from the ground up.

Judging by comments on social media from parents of Central Medford students, the needs of those students for alternative education approaches must be met if they are moved out of Central. Whether programs are created for them at North and South high schools or some are moved to another location is also still up in the air. But those concerns weren’t expressed at a listening session Wednesday at Oak Grove Elementary School. Participants focused on the need for a third middle school and the value of converting all three to include grades six through eight rather than the current two-year configuration with grades seven and eight.

Medford lags behind many other districts in Oregon and most districts nationwide in adopting the three-year middle school model. A local task force, including parents, teachers and administrators, concluded more than two years ago that sending sixth-graders to middle school made educational sense, as well as addressing space needs at the district’s elementary schools, which are overflowing with students. Adding a third middle school could avoid the need to build new elementary schools, at least in the short term.

Money is always a consideration when new or remodeled buildings are contemplated. Unlike many other states, Oregon provides no state funding for school construction, requiring local districts to pass bond levies for major building projects. Medford district residents have supported those requests when school officials made a strong case for them.

Another source of controversy is adjusting school attendance boundaries, which can mean students have to change schools, or attend a different middle school than they had planned.

The key to making any of these changes as smoothly as possible is communication between the district and the community. A second listening session is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Lone Pine Elementary School. Interested parents and other community members should plan to attend.