Medford School Board approves new attendance zones

·4 min read

Jun. 3—Families in the Medford School District now can say with certainty where their children will attend middle and high school when classroom doors open in fall 2023.

After a long process that involved multiple proposals from a specially appointed committee, plus feedback from community members, Medford School Board Thursday approved new attendance zone boundaries that mainly affect the existing Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools and up-and-coming Oakdale Middle School when it opens in the 2023-24 school year. The boundaries for North and South Medford high schools also were altered.

Knowing the amount of effort that went into changing the attendance zones, school board members and other officials started a round of applause after a unanimous vote.

"This should have been chaotic and awful — and it was organized and terrific," Superintendent Bret Champion said. "Attendance zones aren't supposed to be a celebration. Like, we're not supposed to burst in spontaneous applause when they get adopted, but that's just what happened. There's a reason for that."

Vice Chair Cynthia Wright commented before the vote that attendance zoning — not seriously considered in the district since 1996 — does not involve a "perfect way to solve all of this."

"Based on the goals that were set for this committee, I think they came up with a pretty good scenario," she said. "The fact that we're not hearing a lot of negative (reaction) is evidence that we, maybe, made the right decision. So I appreciate the process, and I am excited for what comes as we begin a new middle school."

Board Chair Suzanne Messer thanked the attendance zoning committee, saying, "because of where we ended up, we now have these great pathways for our students to go to those three middle schools, where they're going to get exposed to a great variety of things."

Chris Miller, a district parent who was on the attendance zoning committee and attended Thursday's meeting, said he was not surprised by the board's unanimous decision.

"All of us on the committee were very invested in being intentional about what we did and not taking it lightly," Miller said. "We all treated every decision we made as though it were happening the next day. We felt that that way, we honored both the district leadership and the students and parents involved in every choice that we made. So this is an incredible completion of the plan that we got together and did."

The rationale for a third middle school came several years ago from district officials, who said it was the responsible alternative to adding another facility to its cluster of elementary schools, which are at capacity.

The district then decided to take an old building on Oakdale Avenue that was a school for several decades and renovate it to be Oakdale Middle School.

The purpose of the attendance zoning committee was to come up with several scenarios and present them to the public before presenting a final recommendation to the board.

At several "gallery walks" in April, members of the public got to see four attendance zoning scenarios and give their thoughts. Those thoughts were melded to make one recommendation, which the committee presented May 5 to the board.

Two weeks later, the public had a chance to weigh in during another board meeting, but the hearing attracted just one comment.

Despite that, the board made some minor adjustments to the proposed recommendation. The revised scenario, which the school board approved June 2, kept the new North-South high school boundary lines the way they are, but the Hoover students who reside in the North Medford High School boundary would attend Hedrick instead of Oakdale.

The revisions pleased Jessica Young, a district parent who supported attendance zone boundaries that would have Hoover Elementary School students going to Hedrick Middle School instead of Oakdale. Young has four children, two of whom attend North and two at Hoover.

"I saw the new attendance scenario online. I felt grateful and relieved when I saw it," Young wrote in an email to the newspaper after the meeting. "The board did a good job addressing the continuity concerns that were raised by parents over the last few weeks."

The lasting effect the committee's work and the board's decision will have on district parents was not lost on the superintendent nor board members like Jim Horner.

"Jim said to me today — I loved it — he said, 'These attendance zones are like tattoos; they're almost permanent for a long time,'" Champion said during the meeting.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.