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Once a student misses 10 days, his or her enrollment is withdrawn.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.
Ninth-grader Logan Parr takes two classes — piano and science — at the school and others online.
While waiting for his classes to begin Tuesday, Parr rented a laptop from the school so he could work on his online assignments.
Parr attended Hillside Elementary School in Eagle Point through fifth grade, and his mom tried to home-school him in sixth grade. When that didn’t work, she enrolled him in Logos.
“It’s great here,” he said. “We love it, and it worked well for us.”
Teacher Marcella Dungey visits Parr and his younger brother every Monday.
“She usually stays for an hour or two and helps us with our school stuff — math problems that are hard or science questions,” Parr said.
Eighth-grader Adria Tollefson, who was sharing a table with Parr, said she isn’t taking any on-campus classes this quarter but has been meeting with one of the school’s math tutors, as well as educational specialist Kelli Willson. Tollefson attended Hoover Elementary until her mom opted to home-school her and her sisters.
“The difference is that here you’re not restricted to one curriculum, and there’s not giant classes,” she said.
Logos is classified as a “hybrid” school in that it offers online classes in addition to classes at a physical location. VIBES and Madrone schools are both brick-and-mortar schools, serving students in a more traditional setting from one location.
VIBES opened last year with the purpose of increasing academic instruction time specifically for students who were not meeting state benchmarks.
The school offers 30 percent more instruction time than the rest of the district, said Tom Cole, executive director of Kids Unlimited.
School starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m. and includes 90 minutes of reading and 90 minutes of math in the morning. In the afternoon, students can take art, music, culinary arts, Lego robotics, karate, taekwondo or other electives.
The school caters to first- through third-grade students but intends to add a grade each year up to the eighth grade, Cole said.
“Our goal is that students that finish here in the eighth grade transition really well to high school, confident that they can be successful in reading, math and sciences in what are designated as AP, or Advanced Placement, classes,” he said.
Next year, VIBES’ administration is planning to expand the school and add full-day kindergarten and a program for 2- and 3-year-old kids, Cole said. OnTrack Inc. and the Family Nurturing Center will assist with the toddler program.
However, these proposed changes have not been presented to the district for approval, and the school can’t grow until its charter has been amended to reflect the changes, Cole said.
Madrone practices a Waldorf type of instruction that is more “in tune with the abilities of children at certain ages,” Frodsham said.
“In traditional schools, they push academics in areas and at ages that, I think, are inappropriate,” he said. “In kindergarten, we don’t teach our students to read. We teach them to play and get along.”
Reading is taught in the first or second grade, depending on where the student is at, he added.
Students come from Central Point, Eagle Point, Ashland, Phoenix and Medford for this more hands-on approach to learning.
Frodsham says the school’s contract allows there to be 30 students in a class, but the school prefers to maintain small classroom sizes, with fewer than 20 students in a kindergarten class and fewer than 26 students in the older classes.
“With the demand for Waldorf education, we could have two classes at every grade level, but we just don’t have the classroom space to do that,” he said.
Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at email@example.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.