John Muir faces high demand

When Margie Carlson first heard of the John Muir school last year, she was living in Bend and unhappy with the city's education options. So she moved her three children to Ashland, planning to enroll two of them at John Muir. Then they learned it was already full.

"I didn't even apply," Carlson said. She heard there was "basically no chance of getting into first grade or kindergarten."

Although only in its second year, the John Muir school is in high demand and some parents are suggesting a second alternative K-8 school be opened in Ashland.

When the science and art magnet school opened in a wing of the middle school last year, about 75 students were turned away because of enrollment limits. This year, administrators added a seventh and eighth grade, increasing capacity to 100 students, but they still had to turn away 60 students. At least 30 more families inquired about openings after the application deadline passed, and parents are still calling.

"They're calling every day," said Noreen Madden, the office manager and educational assistant. "I have to call them back and say 'I'm sorry.'"

Administrators plan to maintain the school's current size, with only four teachers and 100 students, because they say that's part of what makes it attractive.

"We offer a small community, and I really do think there are a lot of people that are searching for that," said teacher Tim Brandy.

Carlson managed to find other small alternatives for her two daughters &

Isabella, 6, will attend the Siskiyou School, and Eva, 5, will start kindergarten at Willow Wind Community Learning Center. But she said she will keep trying for John Muir.

Martin Lee enrolled his 5-year-old son, Zephyr, in kindergarten last week at Walker Elementary, but only because he also didn't get in to John Muir. Like Carlson, Lee plans to keep trying until Zephyr is a John Muir student.

"I went to a magnet school when I was growing up," Lee said. "I like John Muir because it's a good magnet school, and it was sort of alternative, focusing more on outdoor education and hands-on learning ... I'm not so into the traditional environment where you sit at a desk."

If Zephyr gets accepted, his two younger siblings will have much better odds to attend, because John Muir prioritizes family members to create a close community.

"I like the school because of the community-oriented feeling," said Emily Desmond, who has two children enrolled at John Muir. Her son Nathan got into the kindergarten program because her daughter, Jaden, attended last year.

"Nathan's kindergarten teacher knew throughout the whole year he would be in her class," she said. "She went out of her way to get to know Nathan and introduce him to other kids."

Pauline Black also has two children at John Muir, and although she said the school is not for everybody, she thinks the school district should consider adding another similar program.

"What I hope is that parents who don't get in talk to the school board and talk to teachers," she said. "I hope they set up another alternative K-8 school. Choice is a really valuable thing, and John Muir is a choice."

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