P-T magnet school has support, but faces financial constraints

A parent-led proposal for a Phoenix-Talent magnet school that has gained broad support from school district staff and the School Board could be constrained by the state financial crisis, district officials said Thursday.

"It's unfortunate," said Teresa Sayre, district instructional services director. "We are here with heavy hearts, but we do have hope for the future."

Sayre led a committee of parents and staff formed last November to develop three options for configuring the magnet school and estimate the cost of each one.

The instructional director presented the options at Thursday's board meeting.

The group of parents spearheaded by Veege Ruediger, mother of a Talent Elementary kindergartner, envisions a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade magnet school offering instruction focused on environmental science and hands-on projects.

"Project-based learning is really about taking them out on a project in the community and just by circumstance teaching on several different subjects," Ruediger said. "Kids explore what they know and question and answer what they don't know. Then, they come back and present what they learned."

The parents' vision was slightly tempered in the three options to reflect realities such as cost and training requirements for seventh and eighth-grade teachers, Sayre said.

Option 1 was the closest to the parents' goal. It would establish a first-through-sixth-grade campus with multi-age classrooms and a total enrollment of about 75.

The idea behind a multi-age classroom is it allows older children to help teach the younger children, said Eileen Bruntz, mother of a Talent Elementary fourth-grader and second-grader.

"The older children learn just as much as the younger," Brutz said. "It fosters collaboration instead of the top-down management style."

Sayre estimated the campus would attract about 15 home-school and private-school students, bringing in an additional $90,000 in per-pupil funding from the state. The figure was about half of the number of parents of home-school and private-school students who expressed interest in the school during an informal survey last year.

The total cost of startup for that option is estimated at $97,500. It excludes the cost of any upgrades that might be needed at the space the school would occupy, district staff said.

Option 2 calls for a first-through-fifth-grade campus with an enrollment of 50. That option would cost about $45,000 in startup expenses, district staff estimated.

The third option would have zero cost.

"I was so inspired by what the parents did that I thought, 'How can I bring a no-cost option?' " Sayre said, referring to research and surveys conducted by parents.

Option 3 would allow a pilot classroom at Talent Elementary with multi-age students, hands-on projects and a focus on environmental sciences.

"The budget dictates how we start," Ruediger said. "I have faith that it will grow into our vision."

Parents interviewed staff and parents from other magnet schools around the state, including Amity Creek in Bend, Springwater in Oregon City and Emerson in Portland.

Environmental science was chosen as the school's focus because children will likely face environmental issues in their adulthood. Nature also is a good model for math, science, art and physical fitness, Ruediger said.

The board said it will weigh the magnet school options at its March 4 meeting.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

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