As a former district employee and now a grandmother to multiple students, Cheryl Dykes knows the Medford school system.
But even she has questions about where administrators are taking the largest school district in Jackson County. It’s what brought her to Oak Grove Elementary School on Wednesday evening just before 6 p.m.
“I guess my comment is I think we should have had a new middle school several years ago,” she said into a microphone at the front of the gym. Two tables of Medford School District administrators sat in front of her and rows of metal fold-out chairs were behind her.
“And it’s unfortunate that we didn’t,” she said. “And so now I hope that you’re looking at doing that.”
Dykes was one of about two-dozen attendees who turned up for the first of two scheduled community listening sessions the school district is holding to gather input on facilities and other issues on taxpayers’ minds.
“I was hoping more people would offer their thoughts,” Cynthia Wright, chair of the Medford School Board, said from her chair in the back row after the brief meeting. She was one of three board directors who attended in order to, like the administrators arranged at the front, listen to whatever people brought with them to say.
Middle schools, disruptive classroom behaviors and diversity issues were scattered throughout the questions and comments. Parents, grandparents and staff approached the microphone to speak.
Maria McNeely, an Oak Grove teacher who has led fifth, sixth and fifth-sixth grade blended classrooms, shared her thoughts about another aspect of the city’s ongoing middle school discussion — moving sixth graders from elementary to middle school.
She expressed concern about plans such as this year’s relaunch of the sixth grade academy, where some students attend at middle schools and others stay at the elementary level.
“The students in my classroom are definitely not getting the same benefits as the students at the middle school,” she said. “And I’m an awesome sixth grade teacher! It’s just the fact that they are in a different environment, they have teachers who are specialists that are focusing on one grade.”
“I really think we need to have two more middle schools,” she said. “We need to move sixth grade there as fast we can.”
Superintendent Brian Shumate responded to comments primarily to give additional background, but for the most part administrators in the room stayed mum and jotted down notes.
Lela Chavez told the district officials that teachers needed to be better equipped to cope with a diverse student body, highlighting an incident of racial bullying of a family member that she said was improperly handled by staff.
“Are you gonna have special training? Because we have an influx of growth in Medford and it’s not just one group — there’s many different groups coming in,” she said.
McNeely also asked the district to keep working to address disruptive behaviors among students, which she said is a growing problem in all grades, from kindergarten to her classroom.
Anyone unable to give feedback at the listening session at Oak Grove has one more opportunity to do so in a week: a second session with the same format will be held at Lone Pine Elementary, 3158 Lone Pine Road, Medford, Jan. 23 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.