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Who will attend Oakdale?

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneNew Medford middle school being reconstructed out of Central Medford High School on S Oakdale Ave.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune A new Medford middle school is being built at the former Central Medford High School on South Oakdale Avenue.
Medford School District promises public input with ‘gallery walks’ and hearing prior to vote on attendance zoning in May

A future middle school in downtown Medford has a name and a principal. Now, in preparation for Oakdale Middle School’s opening in the fall of 2023, the work to establish attendance boundaries for the school is underway.

“The question is, who is going to show up at Oakdale Middle School?” Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion said during a recent school board meeting. “Our team has been working on it.”

That work — by a 40-member committee composed of district officials and community members — has not been done in the district since 1996, when Abraham Lincoln Elementary was built.

“This, in Medford, only happens once every decade or two,” said Brad Earl, assistant superintendent of operations. “We take it extremely seriously, not just because it will impact the students (currently attending), but it’s for generations after that.”

The Oakdale attending zoning committee stopped its work during much of the pandemic, which also caused the opening of the new middle school, at 815 S. Oakdale Ave., to be delayed by a year.

This year the group is back in business, conducting tours of the construction site and producing four attendance zoning options to the board that the public will be able to view during “gallery walks” later this month.

“I strongly encourage people to find a way to engage in this process somehow and get their feedback to us, so we can get that to the board,” Earl said.

The future Oakdale Middle School is being built to relieve pressure on the district’s elementary schools. What would also help, school officials have said, is transitioning the district into a model where elementary schools include grades K-5; middle schools house 6-8; and high schools include grades 9-12 .

Once complete, Oakdale will be Medford’s third middle school, along with Hedrick and McLoughlin.

The new middle school got its “Oakdale” name after the school board unanimously voted on it in November. In February, Karina Chavez Rizo, the current principal of White Mountain Middle School in Eagle Point, was selected to lead Oakdale when it opens next year.

Now the conversation turns to attendance zoning, which the school board discussed March 17, right before spring break. At that time, Earl presented four zoning proposals to them.

In a recording of that meeting, school officials superimposed a message to everyone saying the maps were just that – proposals - and the community would have a chance to view them during the gallery walks. Once those events occur, the attendance zoning committee’s work will be done.

“We will take four different scenarios to four different communities,” Earl said of the gallery walks. “Then, we’ll advertise those four gallery walks so that as many parents and students and families who will be impacted by this will get a chance to take a look and weigh in.”

The gallery walk dates and times are 5-6 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, at Oak Grove Elementary School (a Spanish session will be held from 6-7 p.m.); 5-6 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Griffin Creek Elementary School; 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at Lone Pine Elementary School; and 5-6 p.m. Thursday, April 28, at Howard Elementary School (a Spanish session will be held from 6-7 p.m.).

Earl said that after the community views those options, they’ll be able to weigh in through not only online feedback, but during a public hearing the board has set for early May.

After community feedback is gathered, district staff — including Earl and Champion — will meet to decide their attendance zoning recommendation for the board, which might be only one option.

“It’s really a complete look at how we’re delivering middle school education in the Medford School District,” Earl said. “Having three equally balanced schools is really hard to do.”

The district’s attendance zone charter does have a grandfathering clause in which families can request to keep students in the same school regardless of where they live.

“Some parents may actually want the change,” Earl noted. “After the Oakdale tours, one parent, in particular, said, ‘I’d really love it if my students could go to Oakdale.’”

That was just one example of a parent’s reaction to the new middle school, Earl said, but he added that he thinks community reaction to the zoning changes will be mixed. That is why principals from all three of the district’s middle schools are eager to know what the new attendance zone will be, Earl said.

“They want to start building (a) community — even a year ahead of time,” said Earl.

In a joint statement to the Mail Tribune, Board Chair Suzanne Messer and Vice Chair Cynthia Wright said they are “very excited about the changes within our district this third middle school will bring.”

They noted attendance zoning impacts many communities.

“We do not make these decisions lightly,” Wright and Messer wrote. “When families look for housing, one of their decision points is often the school district attendance zone.”

They said community feedback will be “very” influential on their vote for the new attendance zone.

“As a board we are very excited about this next chapter in the Medford School District,” Wright and Messer wrote. “With moving our 6-7-8 students together, their educational growth opportunities really expand.”

Earl asked the community to “trust the process” of zoning “and accept that we are eager to provide high-quality education” at all three middle schools.

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