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Understanding Oakdale’s boundary lines

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Nathan Clark, 11, Christy Clark and Reid Clark, 6, check out the zoning scenarios at Oak Grove Elementary School on Wednesday.
With addition of a new middle school, Medford School District invites public to weigh in on where their children will attend class

When she was growing up in Las Vegas, Medford School District parent Christy Clark had an experience not every student can relate to: She switched high schools halfway through — and she liked it.

“The experience ended up being so much better for me to be able to go to a new school,” Clark said.

That’s the kind of mindset she wants families of the district to have if their children end up going to Oakdale Middle School, set to open in the fall of 2023.

By necessity, opening a third middle school triggers a process to determine who will attend, an effort not conducted by the district since 1996. The process, known as attendance zoning, involves drawing a new zone for Oakdale Middle School, and redrawing boundaries for the two current middle schools, Hedrick and McLoughlin.

A committee, which Clark co-chairs, has drawn up four scenarios that were presented to the public this week in one of several “Gallery Walks” scheduled throughout the month.

Leah Thompson, communications specialist for the district, said once those events end, the committee will reconvene and either agree to present one (or maybe two) scenarios to the board. If not, community feedback could be used to make adjustments, and the committee could present one or two revised scenarios.

On May 5, the Medford School Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing so people can sound off on the scenario(s) the board is considering. On May 19, board members are to make a decision, finalizing the new attendance zone boundaries.

Committee/parent perspective

Ahead of the Gallery Walks, Clark told the media during a press conference at the district office Tuesday she sympathized with families who might find the notion of their child switching schools difficult.

“I think it’s hard to change. I think a lot of times, people have in mind what they would like for their children,” Clark said.

At the same time, she urged parents to keep an open mind about the attendance zoning process.

“Don’t just assume that it’s going to be a bad experience,” she said. “It can actually be a really beneficial experience for your children.”

“It is an exciting time in the Medford School District,” said Superintendent Bret Champion. “We have a shared vision that learning is for all, and that is true for all of us right now as we embark on this journey of looking at our attendance zones for our three comprehensive middle schools.”

He stressed the importance of “getting people’s eyes” on the four scenarios before the school board makes a decision.

“One of the themes that our community team had said is they wanted to ensure a community voice is embedded throughout this process,” Champion said. “That this is not an administrative recommendation that’s being pushed down; this is literally parents and community members … looking at our attendance boundaries here in the Medford School District.”

As much as community feedback will be part of the process, Champion stressed that attendance boundaries are not established by a vote of the people.

“The only way you can set boundaries within our district is ... a vote of the governing body — well, that’s our board of directors,” Champion said. “Now, what parents do have a lot of opportunity for is their voice and their thoughts to be recorded, and reflected on, by the committee. I do guarantee every comment will be read and considered.”

Gallery Walk feedback

The district kicked off its series of Gallery Walks the evening of April 13, at Oak Grove Elementary School on West Main Street.

During two hour-long sessions — one in English, one in Spanish — constituents were able to see the four attendance zone scenarios and ask questions of school officials and parental committee members.

Kirsten Gee attended the event because her daughter, Sarah, who is in fifth grade, will be impacted by the opening of Oakdale Middle School in 2023, which includes moving sixth grade up to the middle school level. Gee said they are hopeful Sarah will be able to attend McLoughlin.

“There are too many unknowns (with Oakdale),” Gee said at the meeting.

She noted that her daughter likes the fact that McLoughlin is already established, has a great principal and a band program.

“She has her heart set on it,” said Gee, who said she is optimistic the decision will go in her favor.

“There is only one scenario that has her going to Oakdale,” Gee said. “The rest of them have her going to McLoughlin.”

She added that she liked the ability to give the district feedback. But at the same time, attendance zoning is an “emotional” process.

“It’s our kids’ education at stake,” Gee said.

Amanda Moreira, who attended the April 13 Gallery Walk with her family, said she would like her two kids, who attend Jacksonville Elementary, to attend Oakdale.

Moreira cited the new middle school’s proximity to her home as one reason her kids should go there. She also likes the newly announced principal, Karina Chavez Rizo, the current principal of White Mountain Middle School in Eagle Point.

Overall, Moreira appreciates how the district has attempted to even out the capacity limits for each school.

“I want to keep the limitations down,” Moreira said.

Informed that the district will work to take feedback from the four scenarios before presenting one or two to the school board, Moreira expressed hope that officials would use the feedback from the community. A bank of laptops were on hand at the Oak Grove event for people to leave comments.

“I think it (the attendance zone) should be based on that and some of their insight, as well,” Moreira said.

The subject of attendance zoning is not a highly emotional issue for her.

“I do want to put my input in, as a parent,” Moreira said. “It was important for us to attend (the Gallery Walk) and be a part of that.”

Board members perspective

Medford School Board member Jim Horner, who attended the April 13 Gallery Walk, said he had viewed the scenarios before going and was particularly interested that evening in gauging constituent participation.

“We’ve had this committee of residents here, who have worked incredibly hard to put this thing together — you can see what they’ve done,” Horner said, referencing the four scenarios. “What I think we need is as much public input and observation of this as we possibly can get.”

It would worry him if despite publicity of the Gallery Walks, the public shows little interest.

“A lot of people have a thousand things to do (and) they don’t look at it until we make a decision,” Horner said. “Then they look and they go, ‘Wait a minute,’ and they never have a chance to put their two bits in.”

School Board Chair Suzanne Messer did not attend the first Gallery Walk, but she told the Mail Tribune afterward that community feedback is “very important” in determining the attendance zone boundaries.

“We don’t have an official proposal yet from the committee,” Messer said, “so we’re not making any decisions whatsoever until we hear from the public ... to go along with what the committee’s coming up with.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.