The Medford teachers union on Tuesday formally opposed a school district decision to hire instructional coaches for each campus to teach and help fine-tune teachers' instructional techniques.

The Medford teachers union on Tuesday formally opposed a school district decision to hire instructional coaches for each campus to teach and help fine-tune teachers' instructional techniques.

"A poll of elementary teachers in the district was taken on the issue, and after a healthy debate among our building representatives, it was agreed that we take a formal position," wrote Robert Young, teachers union president, in a letter to Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long.

The 19 instructional coaches will take the place of literacy or reading coaches and coordinators for federal funds that serve at-risk students.

Some of the coaches and federal funds coordinators provide targeted instruction to students who are struggling in reading. The new instructional coaches will not work directly with students. Instead, their task is to give feedback, mentor and model for other teachers in research-proven instructional methods. The coaches can critique teachers without teachers fearing it will affect the outcome of their employment as evaluation by a principal might.

On some campuses, the transition to instructional coaches will reduce the overall time available for small group work with struggling pupils.

"Under the literacy coach model coaches had direct contact with students who most needed help," Young wrote. "Under the instructional coach model, however, the time for the coach to directly interact with students has been eliminated. As a result fewer teachers will make a direct impact on students' lives."

The union wanted the $1.4 million in funding for the coaches to be used instead for positions that work directly with students.

But Medford School District officials said in the long term, research shows quality instruction is more effective than small class sizes. Instructional coaches, they said, will help enhance teachers' instruction of students.

They also pointed out that the $1.4 million is not an additional cost, as the coaching positions are replacing existing posts.

Cheryl Lashley, teachers union spokesperson, said there is also a concern that instructional coaches' critique of fellow teachers could create tension between union members.

"This is new and different," said Todd Bloomquist, Medford schools curriculum director. "There is the fear of the unknown."

Bloomquist said he believes there is a lack of understanding of the benefit of instructional coaches in part because the district didn't start communicating with campuses about the change earlier.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.