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A test of strength

With budget and staffing cuts, teachers must 'go with the flow' and then some

Elementary teacher Jane Boening spent an anxious summer wondering where she'd be working in September.

A 29-year veteran of the Medford School District, Boening was told in May that she would no longer teach at Abraham Lincoln Elementary because of staff reassignments.

Last Friday, just three weeks before school started, she finally found out she would be transferred to Griffin Creek Elementary.

It was very nerve-wracking, said Boening. It takes you out of your comfort zone.

Boening's predicament underscores the anxiety teachers in Medford and across the county feel as they endure the effects of round after round of cutbacks that are creating larger class sizes and fewer staff to go around.

Teachers worry students will suffer because they will receive less individualized attention and a less creative environment in the classroom. This could also erode the strides Medford and other districts have made on state assessment scores.

The situation could get worse as the governor and Legislature battle over an ever-worsening state budget crisis.

Medford has lost 68 teachers during the past two years ' about 10 percent of its entire staff ' while enrollment continues to grow.

When you're teaching that many kids and trying to cover all the materials, you can't give all the kids all the attention they need to prepare for the tests, said Boening. Kids will definitely not get the individualized help they deserve. It just physically can't happen.

Still, many dedicated teachers will try to compensate for larger class sizes by working longer hours, rapidly pushing many to the point of burnout, she said.

Denise Stanley, a McLoughlin Middle School art teacher, is anxious and nervous about class loads shooting up from 160 students to 180 every two days under the block schedule.

It will be more difficult because Stanley has seen an increase in students who are from families that are abusive or use drugs. They (the students) are more out of control than ever, she said.

As a result of larger class sizes, Stanley, who is the only remaining art teacher at McLoughlin, will have to uphold stricter behavior policies.

I'll have to quickly isolate the kids that cause the most chaos, she said. If consultations or parent conferences don't help, the students will no longer be able to attend her class.

Boening, who has a Fulbright scholarship to study the Japanese educational system for three weeks this fall, said the annual budget cuts are discouraging.

Nevertheless, she's trying to keep a positive attitude. I just kind of have to go with the flow, she said.

High school teachers will now have six periods instead of five, pushing their student load from 150 to as many as 180 students per day.

Kids who want to achieve will be the ones most affected, predicted Jeff Wheeler, North Medford High School world studies teacher.

While believing other teachers and administrators are up to the task of dealing with the situation, Wheeler said it will be more difficult to devote his energies to students who, for a variety of reasons, don't want work in the classroom.

I don't want to focus all my attention on a couple of kids who choose to slip through the cracks, he said.

At the same time, he doesn't want to dumb down his classroom to help bring up test scores. We focus so many resources on testing that it takes a lot of creativity out of the classroom, he said.

Mary Wieczorek, an English teacher and division leader for social studies and English at South Medford High School, said, One fear is that test scores might go down, but we'll be taking steps to prevent that from happening.

Teachers will have to be more vigilant, she said, to prevent students from falling through the cracks. This means more parent-teacher contact and paying more attention to students' progress in class.

Teachers will feel a little off-kilter for the first few weeks, but once school gets well under way, it will begin to feel like any other year, she predicts.

However, grading stacks of papers will prove more troublesome for English teachers. Instead of spending, say, 15 to 20 minutes on a paper, you might end up spending a little less, she said.

Home economics teacher Leslie Ashcraft decided to help out in the budget crisis by not ordering as many supplies this year.

A teacher for 30 years, Ashcraft has seen similar crises. The kids will get an education, but it'll be difficult.

Ashcraft summed up the sentiments of other teachers: I'm here to teach and I will teach.

Support staff will pitch in to assist teachers

Since cutbacks of &

36;2.4 million in the Medford district were announced last spring, schools have been searching for ways to take some of the burden off teachers.

After an earlier brainstorming session, said South Medford High School Principal Cynda Rickert, We asked ourselves, 'What can we do to give some relief to those teachers in the classroom?'

Because teachers have lost their preparation period when they typically set up lesson plans, Rickert said the school will avoid asking teachers to help out during duty periods when students work on credit retrieval. Support staff will be picking up more of this kind of work.

Rickert said teachers used to spend a lot of time at copy machines preparing materials. Support staff will now make the copies for the teachers, she said.

Even though the school has thought of these and other ways to help out, Rickert said, We will be asking a lot out of our teachers.

She said the budget problems are disheartening, but something she has no control over.

For newer teachers, Rickert said the profession has unfortunately become very unstable. She offered this advice: If you're young and you need a job, go to California.

Under the gaze of a ceramic panther, South Medford High School home economics teacher Leslie Ashcraft tests new recipes. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell