Posted Mar. 12, 2014 at 2:00 AM
Enrollment at Medford’s three public charter schools has skyrocketed in recent years, with dozens of kids on waiting lists for a chance at an alternative education.
In its first year, VIBES Public Charter School, hosted by Kids Unlimited, met its cap of 150 first- through third-grade students and has 14 kids on waiting lists. VIBES started the school year with 136 students.
Enrollment at Madrone Trail Public Charter School has tripled in the last seven years, from 75 students when it started in 2007 to 225 students today.
Joseph Frodsham, the school’s director, said there are 141 kids waiting for a spot in the K-8 school. Currently, there are only openings in three grades.
“We had a family we accepted the other day that has been on the waiting list for three years,” he said.
Logos Public Charter School, now in its fourth year, has seen the biggest increase. The school opened in 2010 with 250 students and now boasts 925, only 75 students away from its cap.
“We are the largest charter school in the state that’s not online,” said Logos Executive Director Joe Vondoloski.
All three local charter schools operate under the umbrella of the Medford School District but have individual contracts (or charters), school boards and budgets. They have no boundaries, allowing them to enroll students from neighboring cities and counties.
Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long said he didn’t think charter schools were pulling students from the district’s more traditional schools, where enrollment was 13,574 last fall — up 3 percent from the year before.
Instead, the charter schools are reaching out to home-school families and families outside the district who are interested in the schools’ unique offerings, he said.
“One of the benefits of charter schools is that they bring more resources to families educating in our valley,” he said.
Interest in charter schools surged during the 11-work-day teachers’ strike in February, when frustrated parents began searching for alternatives for their children. Medford’s enrollment dropped by 200 students that month as a result of the strike, Long told the School Board Monday night.
Once a student misses 10 days, his or her enrollment is withdrawn. Long said he thinks that many students who didn’t attend school during the strike have not re-enrolled and hopes enrollment will rebound quickly.
“If it were to continue, then we would need to look at our programs and staffing levels,” he said.
In the last decade, charter school enrollment nationwide has risen by 225 percent, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Julie Evans, the district’s charter school liaison, said the charter schools are required to meet state proficiency standards and administer the OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test.
However, because of waivers in their contracts, some charter schools have more flexibility in how they approach the curriculum, she said.
Long said the district is held accountable if one of its charter schools doesn’t meet state standards. And charter school graduation rates are factored into the district’s rate, he said.
“No two charter schools are exactly alike,” he added. “Charter schools spring up in a community where there is a unique need.”
Logos targeted the area’s homeschool population. Its slogan is “Home school with support.”
Vondoloski said his school tailors programs to meet the individual needs of students and families. About 30 percent of LOGOS students take advantage of on-campus classes, particularly electives such as art and music, he said. The classes are offered one or two days a week by licensed teachers.
Teachers also come alongside homeschool parents to provide additional support, student assessment and one-on-one instruction. The school has 48 part-time and full-time teachers who meet with students in their homes for one hour every week. Full-time teachers have caseloads of 23 students, Vondoloski said.
“We work on getting parents directly involved with their children’s education,” he said. “We sit down with each family to assess where they are at and customize a program for them. Our mentality is, ‘What does this child need?’ “
Through Logos, students also have the option to take classes online or through Rogue Community College for college credit.
“My niece is graduating this year with 90-plus college credits,” Vondoloski said.
On Tuesday, several Logos students met with tutors at the school at 400 Earhart St. in Medford. Others sat on couches or gathered around tables to read or work on homework while waiting for a class to start.