Grant boosts South Medford 'small schools'

South Medford High School will continue small schools into the 11th grade next year after two years of using the school reform model in the freshman and sophomore classes.

The Jackson County high school, part of a national movement toward converting to smaller schools within a larger school, received a two-year extension of its grant from the Oregon Small Schools Initiative, a program of Employers for Education Excellence (E3). The school's original four-year grant for $1.2 million was set to expire at the end of the 2007-08 school year.

"The grant has given us a great avenue to pursue better strategies on how to get all kids to take control of their education," said South Medford Principal Kevin Campbell. "You can see from our data (referring to increases in passing rates among freshmen and sophomores since the advent of small schools) that it's paying off. We won't know how it affects the graduation rate until 2010."

South started its small schools with the freshman class in 2006. In 2007, it opened its sophomore academies, which were based on themes: BACH (Bridging the Arts, Communications and Humanities), CHAMPS (Community Health and Medical Professions School) and the Discovery School.

The reform movement is based on research showing that students in smaller groups are more likely to attend school and be engaged in their studies.

The amount of the extended grants has not yet been determined, said Charlie LaTourette, E3 spokesman.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust, backers of the small schools initiative, are expected to provide details on the amounts in the next month, he said.

About 20 small schools, including the three at South Medford, received the small schools grant extension, LaTourette said.

"The schools selected we thought were making good progress and were worthy of an extension," LaTourette said.

Central Point's Crater High School, which also converted to small schools, received its grant a year after South Medford. It won't be eligible for an extension until next year.

The grant money may be used for staff development, learning materials and equipment and visits to other small school sites around the nation to learn about different instructional methods.

South Medford's juniors will continue with the small-schools groupings they had as sophomores, with the theme-based instruction incorporated into required English, math and health classes.

About 160 juniors generally will share the same teachers for those three classes.

All electives will be open to juniors, regardless of their respective small school.

"You still want the tie to the small school in the 11th grade because students know the teachers, but students during their junior year usually also want to strike out on their own and branch out to things like chemistry and advanced placement classes," Campbell said.

The schools seek to infuse their respective theme into all subjects and emphasize project-based or place-based learning, the use of information in real situations and real places, said South Medford Assistant Principal Beth Hauser.

For instance, students in the Discovery School last year visited Crater Lake National Park. Prior to the visit, teachers incorporated Crater Lake in their lessons.

The math teacher might have asked students to determine the volume of water in the lake, while the social studies teacher might have reviewed the park's history and what was happening nationally at the time, Hauser said.

Incoming junior David Smith, who was in the CHAMPS school last year, said he's glad the small schools will continue in the 11th grade.

"The themes made classes a little bit more interesting because the projects are interesting," Smith said. "In my Honors Chemistry class last year, we did a forensics unit whereas the BACH students might just look at pictures."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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