Teachers to hear tentative agreement details

Earliest union could vote on deal is Thursday; classes resume Monday in Medford
South Medford student Matt Oakes, 17, performs a trick Saturday afternoon at the Medford skate park. Oakes said heís happy schools will start returning to normal this week. Mail Tribune / Julia MooreJulia Moore

Medford teachers will start moving back into their classrooms this afternoon and make preparations for classes to resume Monday morning — and that's just fine with Dominik Torres, a 17-year-old senior at South Medford High School.

"I am glad I am going to have my classes back. I need those credits," Torres said Saturday.

Teachers will work from 1 to 5 p.m. today, according to school officials. They'll start to reorganize their classrooms, and they'll put their lesson plans in order so they can hit the ground running Monday.

Then at 5:30 p.m., teachers will meet with union officials to hear the details of an agreement hammered out Friday. Teachers will have at least four days to digest the plan before they will vote to ratify it, but in the meantime, life will start returning to normal.

"I have stuff that I want to set up (today), but for me I am going to go back in and knock the lesson planning out of the park," said Steve Johnson, a teacher at South Medford High School.

"My focus is to have the learning be amazing. I think teachers will appreciate their students more and I think students will appreciate their teachers more."

During the 11-day strike, some schools were shuttered and students were assigned to other campuses for half-day schedules and dumbed-down class selections. Bus routes and after-school programs were canceled, and on many days schools were surrounded by picketing teachers and security guards.

More than 500 teachers went on strike Feb. 6, and the district hired more than 165 substitute teachers to continue classes for 12,100 students.

During the strike, enrollment district-wide ranged from a high of 68 percent on the first day to a low of 44 percent on Friday, according to school reports.

Torres said he chose to attend classes because the alternative was too dull.

"It was either go to school or we could do nothing all day — and nothing got boring," he said.

Torres said most of his teachers left thorough lesson plans and packets for students to work through, but his regular class schedule was thrown out during the strike.

"I am pretty happy it's going to be back to normal," said Matt Oakes, a 17-year-old senior at South Medford.

Oakes said the strike "ended up punishing students more than anyone. They should have held it during summer, so it didn't affect school."

Medford School Board member Sally Killen said there is no plan for extra school days to be added this year in order to make up for the three days missed during the strike.

Griffin Creek Elementary School special education teacher Sarah Dalke said she isn't looking forward to hauling all of her classroom materials back to school, but she's happy to be back with her students.

"I am definitely excited to get back to the kids. I am not excited to set up my room again ... it's not enough time at all," she said. "We will pick up right were we left off ... and we will get done what we can get done."

Johnson said he is confident that whatever was agreed upon will be fair for teachers, but he is anxious to hear the details of the contract.

"I think a lot of teachers are full of anticipation to see the specifics," said Johnson, who is working his second full year as a teacher in the Medford School District.

Thursday is the earliest day that union members would be able to vote on whether to ratify the contract, said Medford Education Association Vice President Dan Jones.

Details of the agreement will not be available to the public until after union members and the school board have had the opportunity to review it, he added.

Killen said the school board will approve the contract if it is ratified by the union.

"It feels good to be done, but I think there are still a lot of hard feelings," said Dalke, who has worked in the district for 10 years. "I think it's going to take a long time for people to get back into things and trust the district again."

Johnson said his gut reaction is to feel resentment toward the district, but he doesn't plan to follow his gut.

"Hopefully we're above that," he said. "I think it will be hard not to let that influence me ... I think it will take time, but I think a lot of teachers are ready to forgive."

"I think that it's going to take time to heal," agreed Killen, who was a part of the district's bargaining team. "I am really grateful that we have a chance to start the healing process."

Killen said the agreement signed Friday night is not ideal for either side.

"I would say that neither side loves this contract, but it's a doable contract and it allows the district to approach a more healthy financial future. A good contract is one that neither side loves."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.


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