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Students express frustration over inconsistent level of instruction

High school seniors foresee a lot of cramming when their teachers return to class, whenever that may be.

Several seniors leaving South Medford High School around noon Wednesday complained they were receiving an inferior education and a lot of "busywork" from the substitute teachers who were filling in for their "real" teachers on the picket lines.

The seniors worried that their senior projects wouldn't be ready by the spring break deadline and that they wouldn't be ready for Advanced Placement exams scheduled nationwide for early May.

"It's just hard because we are not getting the proper instruction to prepare for the AP tests," said senior Mark Winans, 18, who takes AP calculus and AP chemistry. "We'll have to cram it all in when the teachers come back."

The Medford Education Association called a teachers' strike Feb. 6 after contract negotiations with the Medford School District failed. Schools were shuttered until Tuesday, when classes resumed in combined schools for half days with substitute teachers.

Some AP classes have been combined by subjects into AP "clusters" or "labs," said South Medford Principal Kevin Campbell, who acknowledged it wasn't "the best scenario."

Winans said his AP chemistry class was combined with AP anatomy and AP biology.

Tuesday in class, Winans was handed a worksheet of chemistry equations his teacher, Jayne Herrington, had prepared in advance. He said the substitute offered to answer questions but "didn't seem to have a great grasp on the subject."

McLoughlin Middle School Principal Linda White stepped up to teach Winans' AP calculus class. She also taught AP statistics, Campbell said.

"We have a qualified teacher in AP calculus, which is good," Winans said.

Winans, a valedictorian, received basketball and academic scholarships, totaling $21,000 a year, to Colorado School of Mines, an engineering school in Golden, Colo. If he is able to maintain his 4.0 grade point average, he has been promised an additional $3,000 a year.

"If I don't get my 4.0, I don't get my scholarship," he said. "If I don't get that, I lose $3,000 a year."

For his senior project, Winans coached an eighth-grade basketball team. Originally, his team practiced at Central Medford High School, but practices were canceled after the Medford School District closed all its schools to outside use until the strike is over. The team can continue to play its games so long as they take place at schools outside the district.

Winans was grateful that he had met the 30-hour mark, guaranteeing him an A on his project.

His friend and fellow senior Mitch Narlock said his senior project — coordinating a DECA competition — has been pushed back as a result of the strike.

At these competitions, students from North, South, Crater, Klamath Union and Phoenix high schools compete in various business scenarios and take business-marketing tests.

Narlock said about 75 people and 20 judges were committed to attending his competition, originally scheduled for Jan. 29.

"Because my teacher and adviser, Mr. (Don) Kunkel, is head of picketing, he had to go to meetings and couldn't help me," Narlock said.

The competition was postponed, and a new date has not been set. As a result, Narlock said he will have to find new judges and new classrooms and send more announcements and registration forms to the various schools competing.

"It's a lot to put together," he said. "It's a bummer it was postponed."

Before going on strike Feb. 6, South Medford teacher Camille Schuler was covering Shakespeare's "Hamlet" in her AP literature class. While she picketed outside in the rain Wednesday morning, one of her students texted her pictures from class.

Schuler said her students had organized themselves in a circle to continue their discussion of "Hamlet."

One of the students in that class, senior Baylee Fowler, said the class was merged with students from AP composition under one substitute teacher, whom she referred to as a "supervisor." Fowler said the students in her class formed a circle with their desks to discuss Act 3 and Act 4 of "Hamlet," using discussion questions Schuler had provided.

"We basically took matters in our own hand ... because what else are you going to do in that situation?" she said.

Fowler also takes Debbi Warren's AP anatomy class. In that class, the students' assignment was to create the muscular system out of clay and arrange it on manikins.

Fowler said the substitute teacher was "good," but she still texted Warren to ask her how to put the "lats" (latissimi dorsi) on the manikin.

Campbell said that most students are working through material left by their teachers.

Ron Beick, principal of North Medford High School, said many of the lesson plans include a lot of independent study, "which isn't unusual."(Clarification: This paragraph has been updated to include which day Ashley was talking about.)

"It's not the best situation, but for the short term, it will bridge the gap for the days students are missing," he said.

Students at both North and South said there was a drastic drop in the number of students in each of their classes Wednesday.

"(Tuesday) in economics there was approximately 57 students and (Wednesday) there was 31," said South senior Daniel Elmore.

"The highest number of students in my class today was 20 and the lowest was eight," South freshman Ashley Ortega said on Wednesday.

"(Wednesday) we had four separate periods, but it was the same do-nothing class with four different titles," North junior Nathan Soltz said, adding that his class computer lab time Tuesday started with about 60 students but dropped by about 40 percent over the course of the day.

Only 51 percent of North students and 43 percent of South students were in attendance Wednesday, compared with 81 percent at North and 76 percent at South Tuesday, according to an announcement on the Medford School District website.

Attendance districtwide was down to 52 percent, with 6,311 of 12,113 students attending classes Wednesday.

"A combination of social media, conversations and media attention aided in decreased enrollment," Campbell said. "Certainly, when you're doing something new, it may not go as you would like the first day, but we just have to work through it."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

South Medford High School seniors and AP students Mitch Narlock, left, Mark Winans and Josh Baugh chat with business teacher Don Kunkel, far left, and boys basketball coach Dennis Murphy, foreground, on the picket line. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell