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Parents question unified schools

Moving all middle-school students to the current high school in the future draws parents' concerns

Parents are showing concern about unifying the Oregon Trail School District's three middle schools, Boring, Cedar Ridge and Welches, and moving students to the current Sandy High School in the future.

There were many questions at the forefront of local residents' minds during Monday evening's meeting of the district's long-term facility task force.

Just listen to a few of them:

• How would incoming sixth-graders, fresh out of small grade schools, adapt to a middle school of more than 1,000?

• Mountain area students already have to bus out to Sandy for four years of their schooling -- why add three more years to their commute?

• Why change the unique cultures of local middle schools?

• How would transportation on Bluff Street work with the new high school and a unified middle school in the same neighborhood?

• I thought the current high school was falling apart -- why would we bring middle schoolers there?

Parents and longtime residents expressed these concerns and many more at Monday's almost three-hour meeting. At the top of their list was that the idea to unify middle schools, they said, had seen little public input.

'Personally, I came from a small military elementary school to a large middle school,' Ginnie Whitlock, a parent, said. 'Other kids and I were completely lost.'

Yet some members of the task force, which includes nine community members and two school board members, say they've opened up to the idea of a unified middle school after reviewing research the past few months that touts the benefits of a larger school.

Tracy Hoyle, a district parent and task force member, said she'd grown up attending Cottrell Grade and Sandy High schools.

She initially said absolutely no to the idea of a large middle school, but has since changed her tune, especially because with a larger middle school her son could be more challenged through advanced classes.

Julia Monteith, Oregon Trail School District spokeswoman, noted that with the possibility of a major change comes community concerns. Superintendent Aaron Bayer said he welcomes local residents coming to the task force meetings and hearing their comments regarding long-term facility plans.

The goal of the task force is to leverage its current facilities to accommodate better academic opportunities for students, and its first goal had been to assess program needs for middle schools in the district.

The option the task force has focused most on is a unified middle school that would include students from Boring, Cedar Ridge and Welches middle schools.

Its next step is to research school capacities and review a Portland State University population study that comes out in February. The committee also will research transportation in anticipation of its next meetings.

In June, the task force will put forth a recommendation to the school board, but there's much research and many questions that need to be answered before this occurs.

Regardless of what the current high school becomes, it's clear the building will need to be retrofitted.

Some benefits of a unified middle school that the task force has identified include increased options for teacher-student assignment, a greater flexibility of course schedule options, increased electives, a critical mass to increase opportunities for students with specific needs and more advanced core class options.

According to recent state assessments, eighth grade achievement scores hover around 69 percent, and district officials want to improve this number - something they say a larger middle school could address.

For more information about the task force and to see minutes from its meetings, visit the school board section of oregontrailschools.com.