Changes to Medford alternative high school considered

North Medford High School has proposed restructuring the Medford School District's alternative school as the next major move in its school reform effort.

Officials are considering modeling Medford Opportunity High School, an alternative night school on the North Medford campus, after two successful project-based schools in New York City and Providence, R.I., where much of schoolwork is crafted to fit students' interests.

As a part of the Oregon Small Schools Initiative, North Medford and South Medford are required to show they are making progress in establishing "small schools" of fewer than 400 students, which some research indicates helps increase the graduation rate and academic performance.

An OSSI advisory committee will decide June 19 whether to continue the schools' $2.5 million grant.

"Medford Opportunity High School is a stand-alone, autonomous school serving underrepresented students," said Paula Kinney, an OSSI school reform coach. "That's actually what the grant is all about, making the environment smaller to meet the needs of kids who have not succeeded in the traditional model."

North Medford officials are looking to Urban Academy in New York City and Met School in Providence as models for Medford Opportunity. Students at those schools often identify an interest and, with the help of a mentor, find an internship or work on a research project in that area.

"That's really powerful because you're looking at a whole different way of educating kids," Kinney said. "It's not just doing work packets at night. It'll be a school of choice instead of a school of last resort."

Transforming Medford Opportunity would involve hiring more teachers and possibly making the night school into a day school.

District officials expect to be able to afford two extra positions with an expected increase in state funding and the grant money.

They also plan to require each teacher to teach courses in which they are endorsed, as is already required at North and South Medford schools. Medford Opportunity teachers often teach multiple courses, some for which they have not had specific training.

North Medford and district officials plan to work out the details of the restructuring plan over the summer and hope to solicit student and parent feedback.

Both North Medford and South Medford debuted small learning communities for freshmen this school year as a part of the initiative, a movement bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust.

The "small schools" are meant to promote connections between pupils and teachers, add more real-life applications to curricula and foster team teaching, all in an effort to increase the graduation rate and better prepare pupils for a postsecondary education or the workforce.

Each year, the 16 recipients of the OSSI grants must show they are making progress and meeting the terms of their agreement to reform schools into smaller, more effective units.

North Medford officials say they hope to meet those terms by restructuring Medford Opportunity and expanding collaborative teaching, advisory periods and other classic "small school" instructional methods to the sophomore level at the main high school.

In the fall, South Medford announced plans to divide its sophomore class into three theme-based small schools next year.

North Medford was given more time to craft a plan for 2007-08 because of major changes in its leadership.

On June 19, an OSSI advisory committee made up of members of the Gates Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust will evaluate the plans and issue a decision on whether to continue each school's grant.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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