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Oakdale rezoning plan for Medford schools selected

Brad Earl, assistant superintendent of operations for the Medford School District, explains a committee's recommendation for new attendance zone boundaries at a school board meeting at North Medford High School on Thursday night. Kevin Opsahl/Mail Tribune
The attendance boundaries, crafted by a committee with public input, will get a hearing May 19 before a decision expected June 2

A committee tasked with rezoning Medford’s attendance boundaries to accommodate a third middle school in the city has recommended to the school board a single plan that is a variation of four earlier options presented to parents and other community members for feedback in recent weeks.

The recommendation, unveiled during a board meeting Thursday night, was called “the only scenario that fully or partially met” all objectives that served as the guiding criteria to create the new attendance boundaries, which includes Oakdale Middle School, set to open in the fall of 2023.

The recommendation keeps an even distribution in student population between the three middle schools, with 857 attending Oakdale, 858 going to Hedrick and 889 going to McLoughlin.

Students who attend Jefferson, Oak Grove, Washington and Hoover elementary schools would go to Oakdale. Most students attending Oakdale would go to South Medford High School, but Hoover Elementary pupils would eventually split between North and South high schools.

The scenario takes into consideration feedback from families, which is why the committee chose to keep Hoover split along the high school boundary.

That is not to say the high school boundary was not changed — the committee recommended that, per its charter. Under the new recommendation, the high school boundary was adjusted so that all of Jackson and Oak Grove would go to South, and all of Roosevelt would go to North.

Before the committee presented to the board Thursday, Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion set the backdrop on attendance zoning — which has not been reconsidered in a major way since 1996, officials said.

The superintendent likened the attendance zoning recommendation to what he tells students trying to read on grade level: “When you strive for perfection, you can achieve excellence.”

“We strove for perfection, and I feel like the team got to something that is excellent — which doesn’t always feel excellent because there’s always a little give in pieces of this,” Champion said.

Ron Havniear, the district’s director of facilities and leadership development, spoke about the committee’s process in crafting the recommendation it brought to the board.

“(It’s) a lot of work; I commend them for everything they did, and not an easy decision to make,” he said. “I heard someone coming out of the Lone Pine Gallery Walk say, ‘I don’t envy the work that they’re doing.’”

Havniear added, referring to the committee’s work, “There’s no predetermined scenario, and (the members) helped get us to where we are tonight.”

Under the latest Medford School District proposal released Thursday, students from elementary schools in the green area would attend Oakdale Middle School in fall 2023; students in the gold area would attend McLoughlin Middle School; and students in the red area schools would attend Hedrick Middle School.

According to information provided by the district, “key themes” that emerged from 150 gallery walk participants and over 500 online feedback submissions included: close proximity from home to school; keeping cohorts together; balancing demographics, and other requests that were specific to each school.

Those themes were “affirmed by educators,” including the principals of the three middle schools, to become recommendation objectives.

Those objectives were — keeping student demographic groups within 20 percentage points of each other between schools; considering “wide gaps” between capacity or demographics; keeping most students together through K-12; keeping each middle school student population between 780 and 1,050; prioritizing student populations of each school with close-together neighborhoods.

Committee members “struggled” to reach a recommendation at its first meeting, Havinear told the board Thursday, and a new approach was brought forth for the second meeting.

“We shifted to a variant of the metrics, and that was, ‘To what degree does (each scenario) support or not support what we’re trying to achieve in each objective?’” Havniear said. “It gave us a little bit of objectivity to the process.”

The recommendation before the board doesn’t have the highest grades across the board, but it does not contain any of the lowest grades, either, the district’s director of facilities and leadership development noted.

“It is kind of a point of consensus that the group came to — it certainly probably is not the first pick of everybody, but there’s everybody’s work in this,” Havniear said.

School board members asked some questions Thursday of the three committee members who presented, but it did not take a vote on it or ask that members go back to the drawing board and craft a new recommendation.

“This is not set in stone; this is a scenario that took four different ones and gave us the best-case with all the pieces we asked (the committee) to look at,” Board Chair Suzanne Messer said in an interview after the meeting. “This actually provided us with a great template to get started, and from here, we can either follow this, modify it slightly, or do something else.”

The Medford School Board will hold a public hearing May 19 on attendance zoning for the middle schools. The board is expected to make a final decision on what the new attendance boundaries will be during a meeting June 2.

For details about the attendance zoning info, with the current attendance zone, the original scenarios and the current recommendation, see www.medford.k12.or.us/domain/2183

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