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Sixth-graders take the middle road

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Oak Grove Elementary School will be Medford School District's first K-5 elementary school after officials approved a proposal to move all of its sixth-graders to McLoughlin Middle School starting next year.

"We were able to make this happen purely based on enrollment," said Jeanne Grazioli, Medford's director of elementary student achievement. "We would like to be able to offer this to another school next year — it just depends on what the enrollment looks like at that time."

Sixth-graders who would have attended Oak Grove next year will instead move into McLoughlin’s Sixth Grade Academy program, which the district launched there and at Hedrick Middle School this year as an opt-in program. Each school opened up spots for 120 sixth-graders, with another 20 spots available at Ruch Outdoor Community School.

Some parents who responded to a district online survey about the proposal and who spoke at the Medford School Board’s Monday meeting expressed their distaste for the fact that the move would be mandatory.

“I don’t love the fact that we don’t have a choice, and all the other schools are still having a choice,” said Amanda Overbeck, who identified herself as a district employee and parent of an Oak Grove fifth-grader, at the board meeting. “And I feel that way very strongly, and I know there’s a lot of parents that feel that way, too.”

Of the 26 parents who responded to the district’s survey, only 50 percent were in favor of the overall proposal; 56 percent were in favor of moving to a sixth-through-eighth-grade model for middle school.

Staff and students’ responses to surveys were more decisive. Surveyed staff (32 responded) were 88 percent in favor of a proposal to move Oak Grove sixth-graders to the middle school, and 85 percent of surveyed students (62 responded) said they wanted to go to the middle school.

Hear how people outside of the Medford School District view the district's K-6 elementary model in the video below:

In a fall 2018 interview, Michelle Cummings, Medford’s chief academic officer, said the district believes the model works well for sixth-graders. A Sixth Grade Task Force that met in 2015 and 2016 recommended that the district move in that direction.

“We do believe that academically, socially, emotionally in order to meet (sixth-graders’) needs both for rigorous academic education and developmental needs, that those can be very well met in a sixth-through-eighth middle school,” Cummings said.

The Sixth Grade Academy offers students a different experience from seventh- and eighth-graders. The district renovated sections of both Hedrick and McLoughlin last summer to create a more sequestered environment for the younger students coming into each school.

The sixth-graders’ core classes are held in a separate wing, taught by sixth-grade teachers. Their lunch and PE classes are held at different times to make sure they have minimal interaction with seventh- and eighth-graders. The exception where students might intermingle is an elective, such as a music class.

In a memo to board members about the district’s proposal, Grazioli wrote that Oak Grove will experience space issues by next school year, and moving the school’s sixth-graders to McLoughlin, which still has available space in its Sixth Grade Academy, would alleviate that pressure.

Grazioli also sent a letter to Oak Grove parents of fourth- and fifth-graders about the plan to move their students to McLoughlin in the next two years. The letter included a link to the online survey, so parents could give feedback.

A dozen other parents attended a Feb. 1 community meeting at Oak Grove Elementary. Grazioli said others reached out directly to her by phone or email.

“We wanted to be really careful in making this decision, so we took a lot of time to make the decision,” she said.

Parents may be able to opt into attending Ruch’s Sixth Grade Academy instead of McLoughlin’s, or they could apply for an intradistrict transfer, Grazioli said. Intradistrict transfers for families are based on available space and resources.

Looking at the end of this year, Grazioli said that the district plans to bring Oak Grove fifth-graders to McLoughlin on a field trip and hold a farewell ceremony to “feel like there’s some closure for them.”

“We do plan to keep Oak Grove a K-5 school moving forward, so we’re thinking this is ... not just a temporary solution, but it’s going to be a longer-term model,” she said.

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

A new Medford School District plan will move Oak Grove Elementary School sixth-graders to McLoughlin Middle School starting in the 2019-2020 school year.Thumbnail
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