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Medford schools attendance exceeded expectations, Long says

The Medford School District had anticipated about 50 to 60 percent of students would return to school today, the first class day since teachers went on strike Feb. 6, and attendance at some schools exceeded that expectation, Superintendent Phil Long said this morning during a press conference at Lone Pine Elementary.

"You'll hear reports today of a few places that had very large numbers in a classroom," Long said, adding that a "large" class is 40 to 45 students.

"Sadly, we kind of had experiences like that at the beginning of the school year, too."

Exact attendance numbers will be available this afternoon, according to a representative from the Oregon School Boards Association.

In the meantime, the district juggled substitutes to balance class sizes.

Long said he visited four schools today to see how substitutes, administration, classified employees and students were handling the transition. He also exchanged greetings with teachers standing on picket lines outside Howard Elementary early this morning.

Substitute teachers were bused from local hotels to school campuses around 6 a.m. for the first day of class. About 150 of the district's 300 classified employees will work extended shifts to ensure kids see familiar faces on campus, Long said.

"We actually have started to put into place longer term planning that we need to do to retain guest teachers," Long said. "Ideally, we would resolve this this week, but we are prepared to go ahead through next week and then we'll see where things are."

A state mediator will meet briefly with district and union leaders this afternoon for a status update. Contract negotiations will pick up Wednesday morning.

— Teresa Thomas

See complete coverage of the Medford teachers' strike at www.mailtribune.com/medfordstrike.