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Breathing room

Modulars have bought the Medford School District a few years to attain property and build a new school to accommodate more students.

With the addition of full-day kindergarten, classes in elementary schools that already were bursting at the seams — Hoover, Jackson, Lone Pine and Wilson — are now spilling over into modulars, which the school district purchased and installed over the summer.

Although the district isn't necessarily getting more kindergartners this year, it is getting them for a full day, which means that kindergarten classes who shared a room last year now require their own space.

The modulars will provide space for an additional 50 students at Hoover and Jackson, 75 students at Wilson and 100 students at Lone Pine. Rooms at Jacksonville, Howard and Griffin Creek elementary schools had to be remodeled and, in one case, cut in half to accommodate kindergartners for a full day.

Wilson Elementary’s cafeteria was expanded so students wouldn't have to eat lunch in shifts starting at 10 a.m., said district Chief Operations Officer Brad Earl.

The modulars, which cost $2 million to buy, install and furnish, meet the district’s immediate space needs, allow for some growth and aren’t just a temporary fix, said Earl, adding that the mobile units have a “useful life” of 30 to 40 years.

Nonetheless, district officials are considering other options for maximizing space in future years, including adding more modulars, changing boundary lines, moving sixth-graders out of the elementary schools and into the middle schools, and repurposing space used by partnering agencies (the YMCA, Kids Unlimited, Head Start and the Southern Oregon Education Service District), said Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate.

However, unless enrollment unexpectedly spikes, none of those options will have to be pursued in the coming year, Shumate said.

A new elementary school or middle school is still about five to seven years out, he added.

Meanwhile, Earl and others at the district are watching the city of Medford’s urban growth boundary discussions closely to determine the best spot for a new school. Twenty acres of property near Coker Butte Road and Springbrook Road and another 20 acres on Hull Road have been offered to the district as potential school sites if and when those areas are adopted into the UGB.

“But enrollment will drive our date for construction,” Earl said.

School registration kicked off Aug. 19 and, as of Tuesday afternoon, 12,190 students had enrolled in non-charter schools, consistent with the district’s February projections. District officials expect at least 100 more students to enroll over the next few weeks. 

School enrollment typically peaks about 10 days after school starts and then drops by about 1 percent over the course of the year, said John Petach, the district's finance controller.

Over the summer, about 105 teachers were hired, and about 60 percent of those will fill positions vacated by retiring teachers. As of Tuesday, 10 vacant positions had yet to be filled.

In years past, the district budgeted for nine extra teachers to balance class sizes and respond to enrollment, Shumate said.

But this year, district officials decided to invest an additional $870,000 into hiring 11 more teachers — for a total of 20 extra teachers — in an effort to reduce class sizes, said Chief Academic Officer Michelle Zundel.

Of those 20 standby positions, 16 have been filled.

“We’re going to keep four in the bank and look at classroom sizes after school starts,” Shumate said.

Zundel, in collaboration with Jeanne Grazioli, director of elementary student achievement, identified about 60 classes in kindergarten through sixth grades that were expected to exceed their target size. (The district tries to keep kindergarten and first-grade classes below 22 students, second- and third-grade classrooms below 29 and fourth- through sixth-grade classrooms below 35.)

The additional teachers should reduce all those classes, bring about 39 classes into their target range, and eliminate several blended classrooms, Zundel said.

“It allows teachers to build relationships and personalize learning and allows students to engage,” said Zundel. “And with our disadvantaged populations, research shows they’ll benefit the most.”

Like Medford, enrollment in Eagle Point seems consistent with the district’s projections. However, the Central Point, Rogue River and Phoenix-Talent school districts are experiencing higher than predicted enrollment. Central Point and Phoenix-Talent administrators say the increase is due, at least in part, to their open enrollment policies.

Ashland had about 200 more students show up for the first day of school Wednesday than it did last year, said Samuel Bogdanove, the district's director of student services.

"It's tight but we're making it work," he said.

Eagle Point and Rogue River already offered full-day kindergarten, Phoenix-Talent offered a three-quarter-day program, and Central Point offered a full-day program in four of its five elementary schools, so the move to full-day kindergarten did not impact these districts as much as it did Medford.

More accurate enrollment and class size data will be available about 10 days after school starts Sept. 8.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Medford school sizes by Mail Tribune

Charisma Southmayd, 6, helps her mom, Andrea Southmayd, move into her kindergarten classroom inside a modular at Lone Pine Elementary School in Medford on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Teachers check out their new classrooms at Lone Pine Elementary School in Medford. The modulars will support an additional 100 students. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch