Plan divides schools by grade

by: Photo By Susan Matheny - From left, Chairman Steve Earnest opens a public forum on school reconfiguration with board members Lyle Rehwinkel, Jeff Sanders, and Julie Quaid.

   Most parents spoke in favor of the proposed 509-J elementary school reorganization at a community forum held March 24, which around 90 people attended.
   A PowerPoint presentation outlined the plan, which would reconfigure the three elementaries in Madras to make them grade-specific. Kindergarten through second graders would attend Buff Elementary (475 student capacity), third through fifth graders would go to Madras Elementary (500 capacity), and Westside Elementary would be turned into an education center for the new Willow Creek Community High School and several other entities. Metolius Elementary would see a slight enrollment increase.
   Charts in the presentation indicated class sizes would be lower, with around 23, 24 or 25 students per class.
   "This is not a done deal. This is something the board is considering," Superintendent Guy Fisher said, adding, "If the community does not want it at this time, I'll probably try it again next year."
   Fisher introduced the reorganization idea one year earlier than he had planned to, in response to a recent controversy over housing WCCHS in a wing of Westside Elementary.
   The forum gave parents and citizens a chance to make public statements, which many took advantage of.
   Retired teacher Steve Rankin, who taught 35 years in the 509-J District, said "The program makes good sense but I have a concern that you may need additional assistants in the classrooms."
   Parent Teryl Hair liked the reorganization idea but said, "It needs some tweaking." Saying there was no room for healthy growth, Hair suggested, "Putting K through second grades at Madras Elementary and third through fifth in Buff would be a better plan, and offers class sizes of 20 per room."
   Rosa Rodriguez, who works with the district's migrant program, noted, "When I do home visits, I find a lot of our people don't live where they're supposed to. They don't want their children to change schools, so they use somebody else's address."
   Rodriguez said eliminating school boundaries through the new configuration "would be a wonderful idea."
   Another enthusiastic parent was Joan E. McDonald, who has been very vocal with objections to high school kids attending Westside Elementary with kindergarteners if WCCHS opens there.
   "This idea that Mr. Fisher has given us is wonderful -- a perfect solution and has so many benefits for the kids," she said.
   Buff parent Julie Norton urged school board members to walk through each school to look at where classes would be located. She noted students were shifted around when Buff Elementary opened just two years ago.
   "It feels like we do two-year planning instead of long-range planning," she said.
   Local realtor Holly Booren said she favored the reorganization, but was worried about growth and class sizes. "There are more children per household in Jefferson County than in Bend and Redmond. Will we outgrow these two schools before a new elementary is built?" she asked.
   Parent Shaun Kraus was equally concerned about building more "add-ons" to Buff and Madras elementaries if growth comes.
   Jennifer Oppenlander and Kathy Sullivan also spoke in favor of the reorganization, while Lisa Holliday, Amy Brown and Lonnie Henderson were worried about class sizes.
   "I'm fearful of growth and crowding. Is our community going to pass another (school) bond in just a few years?" Brown asked.
   Henderson, a parent and teacher, had a question about WCCHS. "I still want to know where the teachers for the new high school are coming from. Will they be taken from elementary classrooms?" he asked, noting his son at Madras High is in a classroom with 42 students.
   Several concerns were addressed by 509-J maintenance supervisor Gary Sisk, who said it would be easy to expand both Madras and Buff elementary schools to accommodate more classrooms.
   "Madras Elementary is on a huge piece of property. The only drawback is that (an expansion) would have a hallway about three miles long," Sisk joked.
   Safety concerns at Westside, since its property is on a major highway, has always made it a less than desirable location for an elementary school, Sisk added.
   "If our growth does explode, we need to start planning today to figure out what to do, because it takes two years to put on a classroom," Sisk said.
   Board member Lyle Rehwinkel admitted that Buff already has a traffic problem, without adding any more students to the school.
   Sisk suggested the parking lot and bus loading areas would have to be redesigned and expanded closer to The Pines subdivision to deal with the traffic from parents trying to pick their students up by car.
   Westside secretary Connie Hemmenway spoke bluntly. "When this idea first came out I was against it because I don't like change. But now I'm in total support of the plan due to the kids that go to our school. We have Westside kids that move in and out of that school two to three times a year," she said, noting one stable place would benefit those kids.
   Board chair Steve Earnest thanked the crowd for their comments, saying, "Nothing takes the place of parents' involvement in the schools. The important thing is to do the right thing on this."
   Earnest said the board would made a decision on reconfiguration at its April 9 meeting.
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