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Prospect School goes charter next fall

The small, rural Prospect School on the Upper Rogue will become a public charter school next fall using a federal grant awarded earlier this week by the state education department.

The school of 160 students, an hour's drive from downtown Medford, will receive a $455,000 Charter Incentive Grant over the next two years to plan, found and launch the charter school.

As a charter school, Prospect will be open to students from anywhere in Oregon.

"This is a school choice now," said Prospect schools Superintendent Don Alexander.

The school likely will draw most of its out-of-district students from Shady Cove and surrounding areas on the Upper Rogue. About 30 students already transfer from the Eagle Point School District, which includes Shady Cove, to Prospect.

"We are one of the few school districts that has met annual yearly progress," Alexander said, referring to scores in academics and attendance for all demographic groups under the No Child Left Behind Act. "We offer music and P.E. in K through 12. We have a lot of things other districts are not offering. We are hoping that will be a draw to people."

The school also maintains small class sizes: 10 to 12 in primary grades, 15 to 17 in middle school and 70 in the entire four-year high school.

Like other public schools, charter schools receive per-pupil funding for operations.

The grant gives the school a boost in training teachers to improve instructional methods and curriculum, and in buying equipment and technology.

As required by the grant, Prospect School will involve parents and the community in decision-making by creating a charter board, overseen by the Prospect School Board.

The Prospect School District will continue to exist as a recognized school system despite the fact that Prospect School is the only campus in the district. The district in effect serves as the charter school's sponsor.

Professional development and innovative, research-based instructional methods will be the charter school's speciality, Alexander said.

Prospect teachers have been receiving instructional training in math and reading from America's Choice for the past four years, and the school now plans to shift its focus on improving social studies and science instruction. America's Choice researches effective instructional methods throughout the world, modifies them for use in U.S. schools and provides training to educators.

Prospect was one of four schools selected this month for the grant. The other three were Gresham Barlow Web Academy, Renaissance Public Academy in the Molalla River School District and Canemah School in North Clackamas School District.

The charter school directors will meet Jan. 9 to receive assistance from the state on drafting their charters.

Phyllis Guile, director of the Oregon Charter School Program, said a committee selected the grant recipients out of a pool of 11 based on a set of criteria.

Recipients had to demonstrate need, lay out plans for their program, involve the community in shaping the plan, present project goals, propose a research-based education program and show staffing and budget.

Oregon has received $16.5 million to support the development of charter schools in the next three years, Guile said. The deadline for applying is March 6.

Oregon, with 88 charter schools statewide, is a national leader in charter school development in part because of a state statute that explicitly sanctions and encourages their founding.

"I think our statutes provide strength in developing options for students," Guile said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.