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Madrone Trail's building wish answered by donor

Even before Medford's Madrone Trail Public Charter School became a reality three years ago, organizer Gesine Abraham envisioned the school's future unfolding in only one setting: the old West Side School.

"When I would drive by it to go to work, I always envisioned it as having a charter school in it," said Abraham, one of Madrone Trail's founders and a longtime Waldorf educator. "I was doing that a year before the charter was ever approved. It's been four or five years I've been dreaming about it."

An anonymous benefactor recently made Abraham's dream come true.

The Waldorf-style school, which is free of charge for pupils in grades K-5, has purchased the old West Side School, 3070 Ross Lane, from the Medford School District for $650,000.

"It's profoundly and deeply moving and satisfying to reach this point," Abraham said. "It's satisfying because we know we can set down roots, and if we set down roots, we feel there will be a school for the future."

A benefactor, who has asked the charter school not to identify him or her, provided a down payment of $195,000 to secure the building organizers had been coveting since before the school of 150 pupils debuted in 2007.

Madrone Trail organizers said West Side's allure comes from its school design, picturesque surroundings including a view of Mount McLoughlin, pastures and sheep, and its central location for students who live everywhere from Ashland to Williams.

But acquiring West Side was a long road.

The first detour happened in 2007. Madrone Trail organizers were on the cusp of securing a lease agreement with the Medford School District for West Side when the district learned two of its elementary schools — Jackson and Roosevelt — had structural problems, forcing the campuses' immediate closure. The district abruptly ended negotiations for West Side to reserve it for students who would be displaced from Jackson and Roosevelt.

"We were devastated because we only had 20 days to find another location," Abraham said.

Madrone Trail ended up leasing a former child-care center at 129 N. Oakdale Ave. in downtown Medford.

"When I came for an interview for the job here," said Madrone Trail third-grade teacher Allison Casenhiser, "they showed me this building and said, 'We are going to move here.' Then it didn't happen forever."

"I'm so thrilled," Casenhiser said. "It's huge and beautiful and kind of surreal."

After Jackson and Roosevelt were rebuilt and reopened in January, West Side was again up for grabs, but discussion between the district and Madrone Trail had begun before that. Negotiations lasted for about a year before a price was agreed upon.

Madrone Trail's new principal, Susan Inman, said donations, pledges by families and fundraisers will make the monthly mortgage payment. State education funds will continue to go toward paying teachers and other instructional expenses.

As a charter school per its agreement with the school district, Madrone Trail receives 80 percent of the state's per-pupil funding. The other 20 percent goes to the sponsoring Medford district for administrative and oversight expenses.

Madrone Trail's instructional program centers on Waldorf methods developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in 1919. Waldorf education integrates nature, art, music and physical activity with academics. Students also learn a second language at the school, something unavailable at any other Medford elementary school.

The school plans to expand by one grade each year until it reaches the eighth grade.

On the Web: www.madronetrail.org.

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