Students will be back at a desk today, even if it's not their own.

Students will be back at a desk today, even if it's not their own.

After being closed for three days while the Medford School District made strike preparations, schools reopened today with unique schedules and a lot of new faces.

About 135 substitute teachers attended an orientation at Central Medford High School on Sunday, Superintendent Phil Long said. Teachers on picket lines Monday contradicted this number, saying they counted only about 112 substitutes entering the school.

Some substitutes coming from the snowbound Portland area were delayed and arrived in Medford on Monday. The district will reimburse some of the teachers who were forced to fly rather than drive because of road conditions. "Reimbursement on flights cost less to us than paying the mileage," Long said.

Long would not verify exactly how many substitutes the district had hired, nor would he comment on the number of teachers who had decided to return to school despite the strike.

"The important thing is we are ready, we have the curriculum, and we are prepared to teach," he said.

School schedules and locations, as well as modified bus routes, are available on the district's website.

Howard Elementary School Principal Sallie Johnson said her school has 19 classroom teachers on a regular school day. On Monday, she said she welcomed about 13 substitute teachers.

"We are not anticipating 100 percent of our students will be present, so we are not staffing to full capacity," she said.

The school's population is about 475 kids, but Johnson estimated only about 60 to 70 percent would be in school today based on feedback she had received from parents.

At least one classified assistant was assigned to each class, depending on the size, she said.

Howard Elementary students will begin their school day at noon with an assembly in the gymnasium, followed by lunch at 12:30 p.m. and three and a half hours of instruction time, including one 10-minute recess. Oak Grove Elementary will meet at Howard for a morning session.

Howard's special education programs will continue under the direction of a substitute teacher with the appropriate special ed credentials, Johnson said.

Substitute teachers will focus on reading, writing and math, and will teach from lesson plans prepared by teachers.

"When teachers are out sick, we rely on substitutes to follow lesson plans," Johnson said. "We have that same confidence that these substitute teachers will be able to stick to the lesson plans developed, which have been based on our core standards."

South Medford High School Principal Kevin Campbell praised his teachers for the detailed lesson plans they left for substitutes.

Several teachers picketing outside South Medford on Monday said they left lesson plans for about four days.

"I'm sad for our kids, because they need to have the best teachers in the classroom," said Don Kunkel, a business teacher and activities director at South.

Campbell said some teachers left lesson plans for up to two weeks.

"Our regular teaching staff did a great job getting lessons together," he said. "There were some that really cared about how their students progressed.

"They want to make sure things go well here, too."

South Medford High students meet for four periods in the morning and then clear out to make room for McLoughlin Middle School students in the afternoon.

"I left decent plans that any adequate teacher could use," said one math teacher from McLoughlin. "I care about (my students). They are between a rock and a hard place.

"They are taking the OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test in seven weeks regardless of the interruption."

Campbell said there were enough substitute teachers to teach core curriculum — language arts, math, science, social studies and health. Additional classes and electives will be offered as more substitutes are hired, he said.

The school's college and career office will be open, and credit retrieval opportunities will be available.

"We are deeply committed to making sure our seniors are on track to graduate," Campbell said.

About 30 classified employees from South and 15 to 20 classified employees from McLoughlin are in place to help with the transition.

"High school kids are resilient and we always say, 'Schools are the safest place to be,' " Campbell said. "We're going to welcome back as many students as we can get in class."

A state mediator will check in with district and union bargaining teams today before both sides resume contract negotiations at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Long said the district will open negotiations with a new written proposal.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at Follow her at