Revised charter school plan faces first test

Medford's Kids Unlimited will find out Thursday whether the group's second attempt at starting a charter school through the Medford School District will move forward.

An application for a K-8 school targeting primarily at-risk youths who struggle with poverty was turned into the district earlier this month, and the district administration will decide this week whether the application is complete enough to be put to a vote by the School Board.

"We feel like we put much more energy into addressing what may have been deficiencies in our application before," said Tom Cole, director of Kids Unlimited, which provides services to underprivileged youths.

Cole said Kids Unlimited had previously submitted an application for a sixth-to-eighth grade charter school in spring of 2011, but when the district deemed the application incomplete, the organization's staff and board of directors went back to the drawing board.

The result has been shifting the charter's focus to early childhood education, hoping to intervene with families while their children are very young in an attempt to fully involve parents in their child's education.

"We have to rethink the way we are engaging children and families," said Cole. "It's so imperative."

Cole said that when young children come from a family facing poverty and other obstacles, they often enter kindergarten unprepared.

And after attending kindergarten for only a half-day, he said, because that's all districts are required to provide, many children will always be behind in school.

"If they only have a half-day, it's difficult to believe they will reach benchmarks," said Cole. "We know they are starting behind, and they aren't able to catch up."

Last year, Kids Unlimited secured a community development grant for $133,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the city of Medford to purchase a building adjacent to the current Kids Unlimited site.

Kids Unlimited is working with the Family Nurturing Center and On Track to develop the building into a family neighborhood facility, whether that means a charter school site or a place for other child and family development programs.

"We feel very focused on this," said Cole.

While drafting an application for the charter school, staff members and board members at Kids Unlimited have spent the past two years studying with Purpose Built Communities, an organization in Atlanta.

After revitalizing a poverty-stricken Atlanta neighborhood, Purpose Built Communities aims to teach others that when community organizations build partnerships, it can help put an end to communities trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Cole said that educating children is a strong focus of Purpose Built Communities.

"We've spent time researching what's working in vulnerable communities and why," said Cole. "We want to look at some of the barriers of poverty."

Cole said if the Medford district and School Board approve the charter application, the school could open in the fall of 2013, but it's hard to say what will happen until the district reveals its decision later this week.

The two charter schools currently in the Medford School District are the Waldorf-style Madrone Trail Charter School, and the Logos Public Charter School, which targets homeschooled students.

When the Medford School Board was voting on whether to approve the Logos Charter in 2010, Superintendent Phil Long said he supported the effort because the school would be serving a population of students not being served by the Medford School District.

The proposed Kids Unlimited charter school, however, would likely draw in students that would otherwise attend the existing schools in the Medford School District, not a population of homeschooled students. The district gets about $6,000 per student from the state; for charter school students, 80 percent of that is passed directly to the charter school and 20 percent kept by the district to cover administrative costs.

Cole believes there are obvious weaknesses in public schools in serving some students with economic disadvantages, ethnic backgrounds or even with geographic barriers.

"Clearly there are some deficiencies with students," said Cole, who pointed out that state tests can be broken down by a variety of factors to support his claim. "What we're looking at is the reality of where some of these youth are headed."

Cole said he hopes to hear from the district Thursday as to whether the application has been approved, or if it will be deemed incomplete for the second time.

Long said during a School Board meeting last week that the district had received a new K-8 charter school application, but didn't divulge any details to the board.

He said that the administration was still trying to determine the target population for the charter and review the application.

"We want to maintain a positive relationship with the district and get things off the ground," said Cole. "We're hoping this is a conversation that continues."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or

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