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Making it work

Wanted: parent volunteers

With schools facing bigger class sizes because of budget cuts, what can parents do to help keep their children from falling through the cracks?

Volunteer to help, school officials say.

Most schools, particularly elementary schools, want volunteers who can devote time in the classrooms or in the office.

Volunteers can help students one-on-one with school work, or get on the phones in the office to find out why a student isn't attending.

The more volunteers we have the better we can do, said Buzz Brazeau, assistant principal at North Medford High. We need to do everything we can to personalize the experience for students.

The Medford district already has more than 3,000 volunteers in its Volunteers in Medford program, which places parents in classrooms, as campus monitors and as office assistants.

Parents who work during the day but still want to volunteer can help in the district's night school, Brazeau said.

Another thing parents can do is make sure their children attend regularly. The most direct correlation to student success is being there, Brazeau said.

Parents also can correspond with teachers through e-mail to find out how their child is doing.

Todd Bloomquist, assistant principal at Crater High School, said, If parents have time in their day to help with reading and math skills, we could really use them.

P.J. Happeny, counselor at South Medford High, said parents should always stay connected with the school and should follow their gut feeling about the depth of their involvement.

I want parent involvement, but there is a certain level where kids have to take responsibility for themselves, said Happeny.

To find out more about volunteer opportunities, contact your neighborhood school. — — — In a year of budget cuts, educators must get creative to serve their students

In a scene reminiscent of an old one-room schoolhouse, Gary Sampson has found a way to juggle three classes in one.

In September, this Rogue River High School mathematics teacher will instruct as many as 35 students at a time in pre-calculus, calculus and advanced placement calculus.

You've got to remember that these students are used to working on their own, he said. Instead of the guru in front of the class, I'm the guy on the side.

Sampson's approach is an extreme example of how schools throughout Jackson County are doing more with less as students register for classes that begin after Labor Day.

With districts such as Medford, Ashland and Central Point having lost 10 percent of their teachers from budget cuts totaling &

36;7 million countywide this year, something had to give.

In the past, we were able to meet all the students' needs and most of the students' wants, said Buzz Brazeau, assistant principal at North Medford High. We're still meeting their needs, but not quite as many of their wants.

What students want are more advanced placement classes, something the school, with 2,100 students, can't always provide immediately.

A student wanted psychology this year and will have to take it next year, said Brazeau. Another student wanted physics, but ended up taking calculus this year. She'll be able to take physics next year.

Teachers won't be as accessible as students might like, either. This year, teachers will have six periods of classroom instruction instead of five because of budget cuts, meaning teachers will no longer hold office hours.

To make sure students get the help they need, Brazeau said the school will have campus monitors and staff in the commons area every period.

I think everybody understands that these decisions aren't necessarily something the district wanted to do, said Brazeau. We're all in this together.

Todd Bloomquist, Crater High School assistant principal, said the 1,650-student school went from seven periods a day to eight to keep class sizes down.

After a week of juggling schedules, Bloomquist thinks most of the students got the classes they needed, including advanced placement.

Many of the students signed up for eight classes during registration last week, he said.

Class sizes will be on the large side, with many numbering in the high 30s, he said.

But it could have been worse.

We had a decision to make: Do we want 45 kids in a class or 35? said Bloomquist.

To keep the numbers down, teachers agreed to work six periods rather than five, meaning they will see between 180 to 190 students a day. This will really be hard on the English teachers, he said. We'll have to find some way to help them.

The school also will have to be more vigilant about safety issues with fewer staff, said Bloomquist.

Everybody's level of awareness will have to be heightened, he said.

At Ashland High, the school wasn't able to offer enough advanced placement classes because of fewer teachers and an enrollment jump from 1,190 to 1,210.

This put a strain on our scheduling with more students coming in, said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro. We've got kids that we're not able to put in those academic programs because there's no room for them.

As a result, the district appealed to the Ashland Schools Foundation, which raised more than &

36;400,000 last spring, for the funds necessary to add seven courses such as science, math, health and a second language. The district and foundation are still working out the details.

I have to say this is a challenging time for counselors and administrators, said Ashland High Principal Jeff Schlecht.

The school adjusted its day from eight periods to seven because of budget cuts, making it more difficult to offer class assignments.

We're trying to meet the needs of every child and we're being successful, he said.

Schlecht said the school will use part-time teachers who have the qualifications to teach the newly added courses.

Although students got the classes they needed, Schlecht said some advanced placement courses are larger than he'd like.

Ideally, we'd like them to be in the mid- to upper 20s, he said. Some, however, are in the low 30s.

South Medford High streamlined its registration process by having students get their pictures the first week of school rather than at registration.

But with four counselors and more than 400 seniors needing to be scheduled, registration seemed a bit daunting.

P.J. Happeny, a South Medford counselor, said, I was really nervous at first.

But her fears quickly dissipated when she discovered students were getting situated into the classes they needed.

South Medford senior Michelle Blum understood Happeny's fears. They've got the same amount of counselors with more students, she said.

Despite the lack of staff, Blum said she was able to get in and out fairly quickly with her counselor.

David Orr, principal at Rogue River High, said many of the difficulties larger school districts are now facing already affected his district.

We had to go through all this five years ago when we lost P.E. and counselors, he said. We lost more than 20 percent of our work force over the past five or six years.

Magdalena Castaneda, a senior at South Medford High, discusses with counselor P.J. Happeny what classes she will need to graduate in June. Schools are scrambling to find ways to accommodate students with fewer teachers because of budget cuts. Click the photo to see a larger (39k) version. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven