At-risk students to get extra help

The Medford School District's cadre of instructional coaches will spend half of their time next year tutoring at-risk students, district officials said.

The creation of instructional coach positions two years ago angered some parents and teachers because the coaches were moved from jobs working directly with students to positions that concentrated solely on staff development and student-data analysis.

Opponents felt the instructional coaches, all seasoned experts in best instructional practices, should be kept in the classroom where they could directly benefit kids and reduce class sizes.

Next fall, instructional coaches still won't serve as classroom teachers. However, they will spend about half of their time providing small-group instruction for students who are struggling in academics. The rest of their time will continue to be spent on staff development, introducing new curriculum, modeling new instructional practices and coordinating academic assessments. Their title will change to "teachers on special assignment," or TOSA.

Todd Bloomquist, human resources director, said the change reflects the need for more student interventions in a school environment where class sizes can balloon to about 40 students at times. The primary goal of the shift is to help certain students who are struggling in classes but do not qualify for special education.

"We have a group of students who are not in special education, and they are not being successful," said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long. "They need intervention to be successful, and that's what this calibration does."

Officials hope instructional coaches also will have time to work with academically advanced pupils who may need customized activities in order to feel challenged.

With larger class sizes resulting from budget cuts, the task of providing instructional interventions to students has become more challenging for classroom teachers, Bloomquist said. Instructional coaches already are aware of which students are at-risk, because part of their duties involve analyzing data from test scores, assessments and grades. In their new role, they will work directly with those students.

Rich Miles, district elementary education director, said he and other district administrators met with elementary principals and instructional coaches over a period of two months to identify needs and revise the coaches' job descriptions.

The TOSAs will work with at-risk students in small groups, the equivalent of intense tutoring.

"We know that (intense interventions) have a huge impact on children," Bloomquist said. "With dwindling resources, we have to do something to help these kids."

The school district employs 18 instructional coaches, each assigned to one of the district's 19 campuses. The instructional coaches at Central Medford High School (formerly Medford Opportunity High School) and Ruch Elementary School are part time.

Last year, the instructional coaches' duties varied from campus to campus based on needs at each school. They concentrated on staff development, rolling out new curriculum and modeling new instructional practices for teachers. The hope was that instructional coaches would help improve teachers' instructional skills, which would then yield better results among students.

Barbara Low, instructional coach at Wilson Elementary School, said she agrees with the change in her job.

"I'm looking forward to it," she said. "I enjoy working with kids."

In the past two years, the lack of uniformity in duties of instructional coaches at each school complicated the district's efforts to sell the concept to the public, said School Board Member Paulie Brading. Some instructional coaches at some campuses became quasi-administrators, and it was unclear how they were directly impacting student outcomes, she said.

Representatives from Oregon Stand for Children, an education activist group, regularly sent members to Medford School Board meetings to implore the district to return the expert teachers to classrooms.

"My understanding is these coaches will spend half of their time working with teachers and data analysis and half of the time working directly with students who are at-risk or talented and gifted," said Karen Starchvick, a Stand for Children member and Ruch Elementary parent. "I think that is an excellent use of their time."

Starchvick said before instructional coaches were introduced, Jacksonville Elementary School had a part-time teacher who did academic interventions with at-risk pupils. Her position was eliminated when instructional coaches were hired.

"It was a very effective program," Starchvick said. "Parents were happy with it."

After next year, the future of the district's instructional coaches is tenuous. All of the coaches are currently paid for with federal funding, including federal stimulus dollars, which will expire at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

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