Schools need teachers before coaches

The Medford Education Association's opposition to the adoption of Instructional Coaches in all fourteen elementary schools is not surprising. What is surprising is that District Administration embarked on this decision without input from their elementary principals (let alone teachers and community members) and continues to stand by the decision despite objections from all of these stakeholders. Objections so strong, in the case of Jefferson Elementary school, it resulted in the resignation of a principal. For a District which has repeatedly stated their vision is to improve transparency and accountability, this doesn't seem like a step in the right direction.

The impact on the schools is varied. Some schools will lose positions that worked hands on with at risk children in improving reading literacy. Other schools are facing increasing class sizes and even splits due to staffing reductions which could easily be avoided by adding a teacher instead of a coach to next year's budget.

The District has put much faith in the Instructional Coaching model as a result of the "success" of the Reading First grant implemented at four Title I elementary schools: Jefferson, Jackson, Oak Grove and Howard. Recent studies on the Reading First (RF) program have called into question the efficacy of the RF model altogether. While Jefferson Elementary has shown substantial increases in reading test scores, the District cannot unequivocally say this is a result of the coaching model which is a key element of the RF program. Rather, schools such as Jefferson were given considerable leeway in structuring the RF grant funded positions, and many schools (including Jefferson) chose to spend their dollars by working directly with at risk students. Many teachers and parents contend that it was the double dose in reading those children received outside the classroom that contributed to the increase in test scores. With the restructuring of the position to a purely instructional coach, working only with teachers, that double dosing would now have to take place in the children's classroom with a teacher who is already straddled with the highest average elementary class sizes in the nation. Add that to Oregon's truncated school term (among the shortest in the nation) and you have a challenge indeed.

There is no doubt that instructional support is needed for teachers new to the profession. But the district could have easily accomplished this by hiring one teacher/mentor for every fifteen first or second year teachers, and the state would have even paid for it under the State Mentor Grant. By moving forward with positions that mentor veteran teachers, the District lost out on that grant, and are using hard fought School Improvement Funds instead, which could have been used for restoring programs like music and media specialists, or reducing class sizes, as they were in other parts of the state.

Teachers and community members alike were vocal in their opposition to the District's decision. School Board Chairman Larry Nicholson heard their pleas, and suggested a work/study session including all stakeholders be formed. The School Board needs to follow through on this suggestion, or risk undermining all the positive efforts made of late to improve accountability and transparency.

Katie Tso is co-president of Hoover Elementary School PTO and a founding member of Save Medford Schools.

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