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Madrone Trail charter school no longer facing closure

Medford School District’s longest-running charter school is no longer facing a potential shutdown and is on track to negotiate a new charter.

Michelle Cummings, Medford’s chief academic officer, sent Madrone Trail Charter School’s board of directors a memo on May 15 stating that the district had lifted its notice of possible termination.

“Thank you for your work to address the compliance concerns addressed in my letter of March 12,” the memo read. “Madrone Trail has created a viable governing body, is maintaining appropriate governance and managerial controls, and providing monthly compliance reports.”

The Waldorf-style school had fallen out of compliance with its charter with the school district after losing too many board members to function properly at the beginning of the year. Its bylaws mandate a minimum of five voting members. Three of Madrone Trail’s board members at the time that Medford sent its letter of concern were faculty members who would have to recuse themselves from voting on matters with potential conflicts of interest. If they did so to comply with ethics laws, however, the school board would have been reduced to two members — too few to vote on anything.

“If they do not have a governing body that meets the terms of its charter and Oregon ethics practices, we cannot negotiate a new contract,” Cummings said in early April.

Madrone Trail’s five-year charter will expire at the end of June. A functioning board was needed to both negotiate a new charter and hire a new executive director, as current director Karen Bailey will not return after this year.

Monica Rathjen, who was appointed president of the Madrone Trail School Board in mid-March, said the board encountered a “tremendous outpouring of support after things were in kind of a transitional stage.”

Eleven people applied to be on the board after news spread about the potential termination of the charter, she said. Three board members were confirmed at the April 11 meeting, which brought the board back into compliance with its charter.

Faculty members, meanwhile, have been designated as officers who advise the board, but who are no longer voting members, she said.

While some charter school boards include teachers, the Oregon School Boards Association generally discourages the practice because of potential ethical and logistical problems.

Outgoing executive director Bailey praised Rathjen for her work to organize the board.

“She has really turned things around,” she said.

A few of Madrone Trail’s and Medford School District’s board members are working together with other district officials to negotiate the terms of a new charter. Part of that includes a school improvement plan, which will outline benchmarks the school will use to monitor efforts to boost student achievement, among other concerns.

A focus in recent years has been increasing both state testing scores and overall participation in those assessments.

The Waldorf educational method employed at Madrone Trail places lower emphasis on test preparation and instead focuses on such areas as “development-oriented curriculum” and “education of the imagination.”

In 2016, Madrone Trail had 57 opt-outs of the state’s Smarter Balanced Assessments, which test in math, English language arts and science. In 2017, that number dropped to 24.

“I think Medford School District has been very reasonable and is holding us accountable,” Bailey said. “But I have great confidence for the future of the school.”

Rathjen said those negotiating the new charter hope for a vote at the Medford board’s June 4 meeting.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Mail Tribune file photoMadrone Trail Public Charter School students play outside in this 2017 photo. The school is no longer facing a closure threat from the Medford School District.