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School district deals with growing pains

Medford schools are experiencing growing pains, and the potential solution — moving sixth-graders into middle school — would likely bring a different pain, as parents and administrators deal with big changes both to the schools and their attendance boundaries. The plan, still in its early stages and without a fixed implementation date, would solve the space problem but create its own storm of issues as it moves forward.

District officials will hold the second of two meetings to hear public comments at 6:30 tonight in the Large Group Instruction Room at McLoughlin Middle School. The first meeting was Wednesday night at Hedrick.

The numbers are clear: Medford's elementary schools are reaching capacity. One way to relieve that pressure would be moving sixth-graders to middle school, which is common in many districts. There are differing opinions, with some saying sixth-graders are too young for the move while others say it makes more sense academically and socially to group sixth-graders with the two grades above them rather than with the six grades below.

Medford's two middle schools could each absorb about 300 more students, but there are 1,000 sixth-graders in the district. That means making the middle schools grades 6-8 would require either building a third middle school — something that has been in the district's long-term plans for some time — or renovating the former South Medford High School, which now houses district administrative offices and Central Medford High School.

Leaving sixth-graders where they are would require building at least one more elementary school and perhaps more than one long-term.

District leaders say they want to make the decision based on what's best for students academically, not for space reasons. That's the right approach. If student achievement can be improved along with shifting students, so much the better.

Regardless of the final decision, the district will be faced with shifting school attendance boundaries. Wherever a new middle school is created, it will likely draw students from both existing middle schools. Likewise, a new elementary school or schools would require boundary adjustments.

No matter what happens, educators and parents will be on the right track if they keep the focus on what's best for students and their education.