Money will help decrease class sizes

The Medford School District will harness an extra $2.5 million in restricted state education funds to decrease class sizes, restructure its alternative school, train teachers and provide more targeted instruction to struggling pupils.

The increase in state revenue comes from the School Improvement Fund approved June 8 by state lawmakers. Restricted to uses the Legislature has defined as promoting student achievement, the fund has a two-year lifespan. That could be extended in the future.

The Medford School Board added the school improvement funding Tuesday to next year's budget, bringing the total budget up to $98.3 million.

The school improvement funding will reduce Medford's average class size by about one student, a step short of what parents with the Southern Oregon chapter of the Stand for Children education advocacy group had requested in May and early June.

That group had urged the district to use the bulk of the extra money to decrease class sizes.

In the 2006-07 school year, elementary class sizes reached as high as 38 in two fifth-grade classes at Washington Elementary. Class sizes were lower in primary grades, ranging from an average of 21 in kindergarten to 27 in the third grade.

District officials have expressed reluctance about adding any more teaching positions to next year's budget that might later have to be cut if the school improvement funding is not renewed after 2009.

They said they prefer to bolster programs that have made a difference in student performance.

"We have seen an increase in performance in test scores as our class sizes have gone up," said district curriculum director Todd Bloomquist. "It takes a lot of teachers to reduce class sizes by even one or two. We think we'll make more a difference if we focus on engaging learners and targeted instructional strategies that are better for how students learn at all levels, wherever they are."

One of those strategies at the district's alternative high school will involve project-based instruction to help keep students interested in school.

"When a student is referred to Medford Opportunity High School, there would be goal-setting," said Doug Jantzi, district secondary education director and principal of Medford Opportunity High School. "The student would know they have goals they have to meet to stay at the school. Otherwise, an alternative school can seem more like a sentence."

District officials plan to restructure the school to better serve the some 200 pupils who attend the night school.

That will involve adding hours and six positions to the school's staff, including an assistant principal, science teacher, math teacher, English teacher, special education teacher and counselor. About $400,000 in school improvement funding will help cover those costs.

Other details of the restructuring, such as the location, have not yet been determined, though district officials are in discussions about possibly moving the night school to CrossRoads School, an alternative school operated by the nonprofit Community Works.

"We knew that the $2.5 million had a probability of happening, so we started to plan for this, but all of it was contingent on the School Improvement Fund being approved," Jantzi said.

The hope is that the two years of school improvement funding will help keep more pupils in school, and through the state's per-pupil funding system, the improved attendance at the school will sustain the additional positions that have been added, he said.

About $40,000 will pay for services by a regional attendance officer to make home visits to truant students to try to persuade them to return to classes. Those who do not return or their parents can be cited for truancy.

Last year, the district contracted for an attendance officer to work about four hours per week. Next year, the attendance officer will put in about 20 hours a week.

District officials also plan to put about $495,000 toward targeted instruction for struggling pupils. That could include special programs or tutoring.

More behavior classes, increased offerings during high school summer school and additional professional development, primarily for teachers, will also result from the enhanced funding.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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