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Medford board to review school zoning options

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneNew Medford middle school being reconstructed out of Central Medford High School on S Oakdale Ave.
Favored Oakdale proposals to be presented; public hearing, final decision pushed back

The Medford School Board won’t be deciding as soon as originally thought on new attendance boundaries to make way for the up-and-coming Oakdale Middle School.

Although several “gallery walks” allowing the community to weigh in on what the boundaries could look like proceeded as planned, the district has moved a public hearing on the matter to May 19, with the board’s decision expected June 2.

Weeks ago, the district listed the public hearing was to take place May 5, and the board was expected to make a decision May 19.

However, a school board meeting is still scheduled for May 5, during which the attendance zoning committee will present one or two recommendations to the board to review and ask questions.

Natalie Hurd, Medford School District spokesperson, said Friday that the new arrangement is beneficial both for the public and attendance zoning committee.

“We thought that the public would need time with the recommendation in order to formulate any additional feedback for the board,” Hurd said, “so it didn’t make sense to have the public recommendation on the same night as the public hearing.”

The committee — made up of district officials, parents and community members — is tasked with drawing up proposed boundaries in the city of Medford that determines which students will attend either one of the district’s three middle schools: Hedrick, McLoughlin or Oakdale, set to open in the fall of 2023.

Though its work stalled since 2020 largely because of the pandemic, the committee renewed its efforts this year — so much so that it was able to unveil four “scenarios” of what the attendance zones could look like and present them publicly to the community in so-called “Gallery Walks” over the past month.

Hurd said Friday that 120 people showed up to those events — presented in English and Spanish — and even more feedback was submitted to the district via an online feedback form, with 501 entries received.

“We felt really strongly about people having the opportunity to come out and see the maps in person and talk through it, because it’s so complex,” Hurd said. “I’m pleased (more than) 100 people took us up on that offer. We had some really great conversations.”

As it has come in, committee members have been looking at the online feedback, some of which, Hurd admitted, has been rather blunt.

“No matter what, there’s going to be folks who aren’t happy,” she said. “We’ve received feedback, both online and in-person, from families who are struggling with the notion of not going to the school their child would attend. We say that none of this is final yet, and all of this, at this point, is analysis. We will be taking feedback into consideration when we put together our recommendation.”

Using her own notes during the interview Friday, Hurd found that the most common areas of feedback people gave was the wish for their child to attend the closest middle school to their home as well as that cohorts remain with one another through elementary, middle and high school.

“There’s a lot to balance and a lot to look at,” she said.

Hurd said in the interview Friday, prior to the publication of this story, that the committee taking the time to examine the four scenarios and community feedback during a dinner meeting on May 2 would like result in the recommendations put forth to the board.

“It’s most likely going to be a tweaked version of one or two (of the existing scenarios),” she said. “We’re going to look at all four scenarios with the feedback, and we’re going to say, ‘Does this scenario meet this priority?’”

Hurd was referring to the committee’s four priorities, which includes looking at district student demographics and poverty levels to try to make a balanced student body for each middle school. If the community feedback can mesh with the priorities, that could help make attendance zoning recommendations to the board that most closely matches community needs.

“We’re going to include that in our presentation to the board and the public (May 5) — ‘How did we get to this point?’” Hurd said. “I’ve been really impressed by the committee. These people have volunteered so many hours and … they are tied to the district because they have their own students, but they’ve really done a great job of coming to the meetings with all students in mind. We’re grateful for their work.

District officials have tried to relieve pressure on its elementary schools and the solution they settled on is to build a new middle school, named Oakdale after not only the historic district it is in but the road it is on — Oakdale Avenue. The new school, housed in a building under renovation, is set to open in the fall of 2023.

Part of the decision-making process to open Oakdale Middle School involves deciding which students will attend. That leaves district officials to take the attendance boundaries of the current middle schools, Hedrick and McLoughlin, and carve out new ones that involve Oakdale.

A charter set forth the duties of the committee, tasked with proposing boundaries before coming up with a proposal to present to the school board, which has the final say.

Hurd said Friday the changes to the timeline to decide attendance zoning is critical to Medford School District’s efforts to open the new Oakdale Middle School.

“We do have a sense of urgency because we do want to move to the next phase, which would be to give our principals an opportunity to start building community with the families of that school,” she said.

Those principals include Karina Chavez Rizo, the principal of White Mountain Middle School in Eagle Point, who was tapped to lead Oakdale. Rizo will step down at the end of this school year to prepare for her new gig, while Eagle Point has named Jennifer Sweeney to succeed her.

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