North Medford loses Schools Initiative money

The Oregon branch of a nonprofit organization driving a movement toward converting to smaller high schools has discontinued funding for North Medford High School.

The Oregon Small Schools Initiative pulled about $450,000 in grant money from North Medford because the school's plan to restructure the Medford School District's alternative school deviated from an agreement outlined in the grant to convert a large high school into smaller schools, said Charlie LaTourette, OSSI spokesman.

"We think it's great what they're doing to better serve students," LaTourette said. "But it's different from the original notion and our agreement with them to divide North Medford into four small schools."

The organization made the decision Tuesday during an annual review of each school in the grant program. Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long was notified on Friday.

"Reforming Medford Opportunity High School would have helped us meet the deadline to open at least one autonomous school in 2007 at North Medford," Long said. "That is essentially like a new-start school rather than breaking into small schools. That was the point of departure."

Long said OSSI's decision would not change the school district's plan for restructuring the alternative school.

"We are committed to making the core changes at Medford Opportunity because we think we need a higher level of service there," Long said. "This news has not dissuaded us from the direction we are going; we'll just have to be more creative in getting there."

The plan calls for modeling Medford Opportunity High School after two successful project-based schools in New York City and Providence, R.I., where much of schoolwork is crafted to fit students' interests. It involves hiring additional staff, staff training and revising curriculum.

Long said the district might use additional state funds earmarked for school improvement to fill the gap caused by the loss of the grant.

North Medford's OSSI grant was discontinued in its fourth and final year. It was one of two schools across the state whose OSSI grant money was cut short.

The other school, Willow Creek Community High School, a new school planned in Madras, lost its grant because the Jefferson County School District couldn't come up with enough money to open the campus.

South Medford High School's grant was renewed last Tuesday to fund its plan to divide the sophomore class into four small theme-based learning communities next year.

Both North Medford and South Medford debuted small learning communities for freshmen in 2006 as a part of the initiative, a movement bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust. The original four-year grant was $2.5 million for both North Medford and South Medford.

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 work force.

Each year, OSSI grant recipients must show they are making progress and meeting the terms of their agreement to reform schools into smaller, more effective units. North Medford officials had hoped 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.

Long said both high schools would continue the freshmen academies next year and other successful practices school leaders learned through work with the small schools initiative.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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