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File photo / Mail Tribuner
Valley School of Southern Oregon in Medford's Cobblestone Village is shown shortly before it opened in 2015. Three years later, it's ready to expand elsewhere.

The Valley School's next move: expansion

Medford’s youngest charter school is growing into a new phase.

The Valley School of Southern Oregon, a Montessori middle school that has operated since 2015-2016, is looking to move into the former home of Living Opportunities, a 2.95-acre property on Valley View Drive.

With that move comes an increase in the school’s enrollment: Its new charter with the Medford School District, approved by the Medford School Board June 4, bumps its enrollment cap from 100 to 120.

Amy Thuren, executive director of The Valley School, said staff “are very excited.”

“We’re a Montessori school, and gardening and outdoors are a big component and something we’ve been missing the last three years,” she said. “We’re looking forward to using the outdoor space and creating a gardening program.”

Thuren said the enrollment increase will better fit the school’s model of four “tribes,” or smaller communities within the student body.

Since its establishment, The Valley School has been located in Cobblestone Village at 1253 N. Riverside Ave. The site formerly housed restaurants, so students have worked together in booths and used the commercial-grade kitchen to cook lunches.

In its work with the school to arrive at a charter, the Medford School District urged leaders to increase the diversity of its student body. In 2016-2017, the student body was 88 percent white, with 7 percent Hispanic students making up the next biggest racial category. Students with disabilities made up 8 percent, and 20 percent of students were considered economically disadvantaged.

In comparison, sixth- through eighth-graders in the Medford School District were 67 percent white and 24 percent Hispanic/Latino, 71 percent economically disadvantaged and 14 percent students with disabilities.

Thuren said that while The Valley School plans to increase advertising to spread wider awareness of the school’s presence in the district, the fact that the entry lottery is weighted in favor of siblings of current students, “it’ll take a little while to change that.”

Among incoming sixth-graders, 30 percent were siblings of enrolled students, she said.

Personal connections have been a key aspect of the school’s process, from its beginning in 2015 up through last year, when school leaders were first considering trying to acquire the property used by Living Opportunities, a nonprofit aimed at supporting those with disabilities. Thuren said the school couldn’t afford to purchase the property, so members of the school community worked together to find a buyer who would then lease the building back to them.

They got their chance to move into the new building, Thuren said, in January, when a buyer was found. She didn’t name the buyer and said the deal would close in July. Jackson County property records still list the property as belonging to Living Opportunities. The county places the property’s real market value at $479,810.

The improvements planned include asbestos removal. The school will use a grant from the Walton Foundation and conduct fundraising to pay for the project, Thuren said. The city of Medford’s Planning Commission is considering the school’s application for a conditional use permit to make other modifications.

“One of the biggest things I hear from parents is, ‘We’re excited to move, but don’t make it look traditional,’” Thuren said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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