LEBANON — Seven Oak Middle School's status next year is expected to be determined at a special meeting of the Lebanon School Board, 7 p.m. March 19 at the Santiam Travel Station.
In a discussion Thursday, however, board members asked staff members to concentrate on the costs and necessary procedures for two main options: finding room to keep sixth-graders at Seven Oak, adding modulars if necessary; or turning the middle school into seventh- and eighth-grade junior high and creating four in-town elementary schools of kindergarten through sixth grades.
Feedback from surveys, community forums and an online "Thought Exchange" appears to support development of four K-6 elementary schools, which would alleviate crowding at Seven Oak next year and make possible space for a full-day alternative program.
Respondents said they wanted to keep the current K-8 configurations at Lacomb and Hamilton Creek schools.
Most respondents did not favor returning sixth-graders to just one or two schools. Also, most did not express support for development of in-town "sister schools" that would place kindergarten through second grade in one building and third through fifth grades at another.
At both Thursday's regular meeting and during a previous work session, board members agreed that, ideally, equal opportunities should be available for district students no matter what school they attend.
That's problematic, however, given that schedules and staffing even under current conditions don't allow for identical opportunities at all four elementary schools.
Principals said moving sixth-graders to various schools would further complicate matters, because schedules then would need to accommodate extra P.E., recess and music, as well as making sure teachers still have prep time.
Also unclear is what would happen to Life Skills and English Language Learner programs housed at Green Acres Elementary School if more room were needed for sixth grade.
But keeping the sixth-graders at Seven Oak isn't an easy choice, either. The middle school is experiencing crowded hallways, classrooms and lunch periods this year with about 660 students, and is expecting 685 next year.
Academic achievement at the middle school also lags behind both the state average and its in-district counterparts at Hamilton Creek and Lacomb. The district has said reducing the population and concentrating certain resources strictly on junior high students might be a way to boost test scores.
Board members said above all, they're leery of acting in haste and causing additional problems. Chairman Tom Oliver said he feels if a solution can't be reached on March 19, the board needs to be all right with not acting.
"I don't want to make the wrong call because we're in a hurry," he said.